Church Picks Review Panel for Sex Cases

By Giselle Goodman
Portland Press Herald [Portland ME]
Downloaded March 1, 2003

Daniel Wathen, a non-Catholic and former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, will head a new 10-person review board that will investigate allegations of sexual abuse by priests, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland announced Friday.

The board, which was established to make sure investigations are fair and sensitive, is made up primarily of lay people. Members include a former Maine State Police captain, two psychologists, a former teacher, a child welfare advocate and a victim of child sexual abuse. Eight are Catholic. Two - Wathen and Dr. David Mills, a psychologist - are not.

"If this isn't a representative group, I don't know what it is," said Wathen. "If you have a concern, if you have an allegation, there is a system, a fair system . . . to make sure children are protected."

Formation of the board follows a year of turmoil in the Catholic Church, when numerous cases of child sex abuse by priests came to light in Maine and the rest of the country. The church has come under fire for not removing accused priests.

The scandal was addressed in June during the United States Conference of Bishops in Texas, where the "Dallas Charter" was created. Along with establishing a zero tolerance for sex abuse and implementing a policy where any priest with a credible allegation against him would be removed from ministry, the bishops determined that there should also be a review board in each diocese to assess claims of abuse. After revisions, the Vatican approved the charter in December.

The changes that have come about in the past year have been welcomed by some who advocate for victims.

But Cynthia Desrosiers, the former Maine coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, wonders if the review board is enough.

"I just hope it's not another window dressing for the diocese," she said. "They are going to need to prove the panel is acting on the best interest of the child and not the church."

According to the diocese, the board will review and assess every past, present and future allegation of sexual abuse of minors and make recommendations to Bishop Joseph J. Gerry on the credibility of the allegations. The group will also advise the bishop on policy issues.

Wathen likened the group to a grand jury that will serve as "an independent consultative body involved in investigation."

Although its recommendations will remain confidential, Wathen said the action of the bishop regarding the board's recommendations will be public.

Monsignor Marc Caron of the Portland diocese said board members were selected for their demonstrated independence, fairness and expertise in various fields. The board, which met for the first time in late January, made the decision to go public with their names.

The members are Wathen, who is serving as chairman; Paul Falconer, retired Maine State Police captain; Monsignor Rene Mathieu, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Lewiston; Edna Chace, a mother of a victim of clergy sexual abuse; David Mills, a psychologist with expertise in investigation of ethics violations; Jim Moran, a psychologist; Kathleen Rossi, a former teacher who has worked with victims of child abuse; Sister Theresa Rounds, a member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; Michael Tarpinian, president and CEO of Youth Alternatives; and Jim Walsh, director of the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation.

The board member who is a victim of child sexual abuse did not want to be identified as a victim.

Wathen said the board is independent enough that the public should expect it to be a "truly independent and competent group of people."

He said he both volunteered and was asked to serve on the board. Wathen said his entire career has been focused on protecting children, and serving on this board is another way to accomplish that.

"You can't prevent totally bad things from happening in this world," he said. "But you can make sure you do as much as possible and make assurances that you are working toward that end - protecting kids.

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