Dioceses Differ in Revealing Abuse Allegations

By Eric Gorski
Denver Post Religion
Downloaded June 19, 2003

One year after U.S. Catholic bishops adopted a policy to quell an unprecedented clergy abuse scandal, dioceses are differing vastly in how much information they will share about how it is playing out.

Nearly all the nation's 195 dioceses have adopted or beefed up sexual abuse policies based on last June's meeting in Dallas.

The Denver and Colorado Springs dioceses, for example, assembled review boards primarily of lay people to weigh any new allegations and offer recommendations to their respective bishops.

But the dioceses vary in how much they are willing to discuss.

Fran Maier, chancellor of the Denver archdiocese, said Wednesday that the archdiocese won't disclose whether it has received any abuse allegations in the last year. He called it part of a long-standing policy meant to protect both the victims and the accused.

Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan, whose diocese includes Douglas County, said this week that there have been no allegations since last summer.

The Archdiocese of Chicago, the nation's second largest, has said it has received 50 new reports of alleged sexual misconduct by priests since last June.

The disclosure issue is sensitive because many Catholics view the scandal as an outgrowth of an institutional culture that has been closed and secretive for too long.

American bishops will gather in St. Louis starting today for their spring meeting. A brief update will be presented on the status of the Dallas policy.

The resignation of former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating earlier this week from a national lay review board has thrust the scandal back into the headlines.

"For some bishops, there's concern about privacy and legal liability," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America. "Some bishops just don't want to expose all the dirty laundry in public."

There's general agreement the church has taken steps forward, particularly in its commitment to taking allegations to outside authorities and preventing abusive priests from being moved from parish to parish, Reese said.

The differences in disclosure are not surprising because the U.S. church is not as centralized as the public believes, he said.

The Denver archdiocese adopted a sexual abuse policy in 1991 and revised it after the Dallas meeting.

Archbishop Charles Chaput said last year that there are no abusers serving in the archdiocese.

Maier said that for every diocese that has chosen full disclosure in the past year, there are two or three that haven't. The archdiocese also has declined to identify lay members on its review board.

"The easy thing to do is assume there is a genetic resistance to revealing information," Maier said. "That really is a misrepresentation of what the motives and intentions are. Our approach has always been that in balancing the rights of the victim, or the alleged victim, and the rights of the accused, full disclosure can do as much or more damage as respecting that privacy."

Gwyn Green, chairwoman of Rocky Mountain Call to Action, a liberal Catholic reform group, said the archdiocese should be more forthcoming.

"The message has been, 'You don't have to get upset, laity, because there's no problem here and we know better than you anyway,"' she said.


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