Extent of Priest Abuse 'Still Unknown'

By John Chadwick
Record [Bergen NJ]
May 14, 2003

LITTLE FALLS - More than a year after the clergy abuse crisis exploded in the Catholic Church, the extent of the problem remains unknown, a key aide to the nation's bishops said Tuesday.

"The truth is, we really don't know. Not yet," said Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection. "All we have are estimates."

McChesney drew nearly 200 people to Our Lady of the Holy Angels, where she spoke about the roots of the scandal and what the church is doing to solve the problem. By year's end she is to issue a public report on the bishops' efforts.

A former FBI agent, McChesney was appointed to the newly created position last year when the crisis seemed to be spinning out of control.

Since January 2002, more than 300 priests have either stepped down or been removed.

McChesney told the audience the problem goes back many years. "One of the things we know now is there were a lot more cases going on than people realized," she said.

Those cases escaped public attention because the church entered into confidentiality settlements with the victims and sent the priests for treatment for pedophilia.

"What time has told us is that these people can be great recidivists - that they do re-offend," she said.

Even after several high-profile clergy abuse cases in the Eighties and early Nineties, McChesney said, many Catholic communities were in denial.

"People said, 'Well, we don't have that problem in our diocese,"' she said. "That's not to say every diocese does, but many more did than was originally thought."

Catholic bishops did draw up policies more than a decade ago to address abuse, but not all dioceses followed those directives, she added.

"Unfortunately, there was no accountability and no consistency in the application" of the policies, she said.

Last year the bishops approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which requires them to remove priests after one instance of abuse. McChesney said the document, and the promises bishops have made, are significant.

"That is the thing that is the sea change," she said. "My job, and the job of many others, is to help them fulfill their pledges."

Hours before the meeting, a victims group lashed out at Newark Archbishop John J. Myers for comments he made last month that seemed critical of McChesney. Myers said in a letter that "her decisions and the conduct of her office leave more than a few bishops for whom she technically works in a state of perplexity."

The victims group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Myers' action was deplorable and reflected a lack of compassion for victims.

Myers' spokesman, Jim Goodness, said Tuesday that the archbishop was upset because McChesney's appearance was arranged by Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group that he has banned from the archdiocese. "To say we are indifferent to survivors is incorrect and inflammatory," Goodness said.

Little Falls is part of the Diocese of Paterson, which allows Voice of the Faithful to meet in its churches.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.