Church Sets Abuse Policy: Review Panel Established for Sex Cases

By Eric Convey
Boston Herald [Boston MA]
May 31, 2003

The Archdiocese of Boston released its long-awaited policy to combat clergy sexual abuse yesterday, wrapping up a year of work but drawing swift criticism from some quarters.

"I wish to personally commit myself to the full implementation and the carrying out of these policies," Bishop Richard G. Lennon vowed at a news conference where the 111-page document was unveiled.

"The overriding concern is for the care of children and the just resolution of any reports," he said. "Our commitment is firm."

Among the changes to take effect July 1:

Every abuse or misconduct allegation will be presented to a lay review board. In the past, top local church officials had the authority to quash cases in their infancy.

The names of the review board's members will be made public as will annual reports on the number and resolution of cases. Previous review boards were shrouded in secrecy.

All church employees and volunteers will be required to tell civil authorities of any misconduct allegations against priests. State law is not so sweeping.

To the disappointment of critics including Attorney General Tom Reilly, the diocese is abandoning last year's policy of immediately removing any priest accused of abuse from public ministry.

"The draft remains deficient in many important respects," Assistant Attorney General Alice E. Moore wrote in a letter to the church's law firm yesterday.

The Rev. Robert W. Oliver, who helped draft the new policy, said worldwide church law prevents any diocesan bishop from removing a priest from his post without at least minimal due process.

The archdiocese went too far last year when it publicly removed priests before claims against them were investigated, Oliver said.

In the future, priests may be prodded to voluntarily take time off during preliminary investigations but will not be publicly identified, Oliver said.

Those preliminary probes are unlikely to take more than a few weeks and could be even shorter, he said. "You have to do things in the right sequence."

Critics also complained that the new policy places too much emphasis on helping alleged victims reconcile with the church rather than pursue healing in secular venues.

Lennon yesterday emphasized the importance of reconciling victims with the church and bringing about "healing within the Catholic community of Boston."

Dr. Mary Jane England, who served on a commmission that recommended new guidelines in October, said through an aide that she generally supported the new policy but is disappointed that the office it creates to help victims might be too closely linked to the church.

Ann Hagan Webb, New England Regional Coordinator of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, said she is worried the review boards will not have enough power.

"I certainly hope it will have a lot of clout, because the church doesn't have a very good record of policing itself," she said.

In a bid to preserve the authority of local bishops but prevent cover-ups, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops created a panel that is conducting a nationwide audit to ensure every diocese creates and enforces an abuse policy.


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