Bishop Apologizes for Abuses
Bishop Sean P. O'Malley Presents a Number of New Measures Meant to Tighten Abuse Reporting and Background Checks

By Jeff Brumley
Press Journal [Palm Beach FL]
June 14, 2003

Bishop Sean P. O'Malley apologized to all victims of church sex abuse the same day he announced a new, tougher sexual abuse policy for the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach.

"As Bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach, and in the name of the entire hierarchy of the Church, I write to offer my apology to all victims of sexual abuse by clergy, religious, or other church personnel," O'Malley wrote in a letter released Friday and posted on the diocesan Web site ( O'Malley said he knew his letter would do little to ease victims' suffering, "but I want to do what I can to promote healing for you and for all those affected by this abuse."

In part to assure parents their children are safe in the diocese's churches, missions and programs, the bishop presented a number of new measures meant to tighten abuse reporting and background checks.

"I want to assure all our people that the Diocese of Palm Beach is committed to immediate reporting of all incidences of alleged abuse by church personnel to the proper authorities," O'Malley wrote.

The new policy, formulated in June 2002, requires all clergy, religious, lay employees and volunteers who work with children to undergo fingerprinting for a national background check. Educational programs and training for church personnel are already under way.

O'Malley also now has an independent review board to assist him in examining allegations.

The new steps for handling abuse claims include:

*Making an immediate report to an abuse hotline.

*Making an oral report to the chancellor of the diocese.

*The diocesan attorney reporting the allegation to the State Attorney's Office.

*Providing the victim and family with the name and number of the diocesan assistance coordinator.

*Submitting a written report to the local Department of Children and Families office within 48 hours.

The diocese - which includes Indian River, St. Lucie, Okeechobee, Martin and Palm Beach counties - started down the road to a stricter sexual abuse policy shortly after the March 2002 departure of Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, who resigned after admitting to molesting a teen during the 1970s.

O'Connell's predecessor, J. Keith Symons, resigned in disgrace in 1998 after it was learned he molested several altar boys in different parishes earlier in his career.

Many speculate that the Vatican selected O'Malley because he was an experienced reformer, having revamped and strengthened the sexual abuse policies at the diocese of Falls River, Mass., where he had been bishop since 1992.

In his letter, O'Malley said he is determined that neither he nor the diocese will make the same mistakes others have made, namely covering up allegations and abuse and transferring perpetrators to other parishes.

O'Malley said he prays that "the transparency now required by the church in our country" and the counseling now available will encourage victims and their families to come forward.

"I pledge to do everything in my power to see that this is so," he said.


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