Catholics Have Hope
Needed 1st Steps Taken

The Arizona Republic [Phoeniz AZ]
June 11, 2003

Thousands of Catholics will fill pews on Sundays to come and, with eyes toward the altar, wonder when the anguish will end.

The sex-abuse scandal in the church is a crisis of community, and the parishioners of greater Phoenix are embroiled in it more deeply, more personally than anyone else in Arizona, save the victims and their families. For Catholics, the priesthood constitutes this world's link to God. You don't get much more personally involved in a crisis than that.

But the church is built on faith. Indeed, one of its preeminent articles of faith, that Christ is brought directly into the hearts and souls of the faithful through the miracle of transubstantiation, the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, suffuses Catholic life. To have that faith is to have continuing faith in the future of a redeemed humanity. Catholics, by nature, have hope.

The agreement between Bishop Thomas O'Brien and Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley is cause for such hope.

Most news coverage of the agreement has focused on the conflict between O'Brien and Romley over the extent of the bishop's continuing authority. But, as outlined by representatives of the church during an Editorial Board meeting last week, there is much more to the agreement than that. And the changes stipulated in the agreement should hearten Catholics who fear for the safety of their young children and teenagers.

The agreement signed May 3 (and announced June 2) includes a contribution of $300,000 by the Phoenix diocese to the Maricopa County Attorney's Victim Compensation Fund.

As stipulated, the money will be used to compensate child victims of criminal sexual misconduct. That check already has been delivered. The diocese will pay an identical sum over the next three years for counseling of those victimized by child sexual abuse.

In addition, the diocese will create a three-person Victim Assistance Panel, composed of mental-health professionals, that will consider requests for counseling from people who indicate they have been abused by diocesan personnel. The panel will be authorized to approve up to $50,000 in counseling fees for victims and their families.

There are other changes that appear even more promising because they address the institutional mindset of the diocese.

The diocese has created a new position, a moderator of the Curia, essentially a chief of staff, whose duties include enforcing the sexual misconduct policy.

Monsignor Richard Moyer has been appointed to that position. This is a move that places enforcement of the policy where it should be: at the top of the diocese hierarchy.

Just as important, the diocese has hired Jennifer O'Connor as youth protection advocate. Her decisions regarding child welfare will not be subject to the consent of the bishop, and she will be provided independent legal counsel. To its credit, the diocese began searching for the advocate before signing the agreement with Romley.

The church has a long road ahead before it sets matters right with the families who fill its pews. But the agreement with the county attorney includes a lot of important first steps.


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