Bishops Begin to Address Sexual Abuse Problems

By Patricia Rice
Centre Daily Times [St. Louis MO]
Downloaded June 20, 2003

ST. LOUIS - (KRT) - Studies and audits are no cure for sexual abuse, but they will help Catholics and others learn to protect children.

Those were the thoughts shared by Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., after the first day of the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"These are steps the church has embarked on to assure our people that their children are safe. That is going to take time," he said at a news conference Thursday evening.

He said many Catholics are willing to be patient as long as they are assured that sexual abusers have been removed.

"Only the most naive would think that it could be solved in the twinkling of an eye," he said.

No matter what the conference achieves, in the end, only a bishop can assure the Catholics in his diocese that children are protected, he said.

"They look to the man who stands there in their midst as their shepherd," he said.

The first day of the conference included a packed morning agenda on training and ministry of deacons and the growing number of American Indian Catholics.

Gregory's remarks came at the end of a three-hour session on the sexual abuse crisis in the church. Three members of the conference's national review board, along with professional researchers from the John Jay College at City University of New York, spoke to the bishops and took candid questions. They explained the audit the college is conducting.

The John Jay study is based on a survey of each diocese. Survey questions went out last month and are due by the end of this month.

That survey is statistical. Each diocese must look at its files for the past 52 years and report the number of incidents of abuse, number of abusers and the money spent for victims' care, settlements and attorneys' fees, according to Kathleen McChesney, who heads the bishops' office on child protection.

At least one vocal critic of the survey liked what he heard Thursday.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles initially balked at the survey, which contributed to a firestorm that led him to call last week for the resignation of the head of the national review board, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating. Keating, who had accused some of the bishops of stonewalling the board and authorities and compared them to the Mafia, quit Monday.

After hearing from the researchers Thursday, Mahony stood and told the bishops that he was satisfied with the survey. His staff also circulated notices that he and California bishops were cooperating with researchers.

Review board member Robert Bennett, a Washington lawyer, said in an interview that much of the jousting over the survey was because of concerns over confidentiality required by law. Other bishops wanted questions to go into more depth. Those deeper questions will be in a multi-year study which will begin next year.

"At the end of the day, (when the survey is completed) if some bishops remain uncooperative they will be identified," Bennett said. "But now, we want information from them, not punishment. This is not about bishop bashing, it is about getting information to protect children."

As St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali hurried to make a phone call, he said the session on the survey "was wonderful, wonderful."

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee said the healing from the sexual abuse crisis has completed the first stage, what he called the "subtraction" phase.

"We are now moving into the addition phase, when we are not just removing priests but doing positive things, like teaching people to recognize the signs in children that they have been abused," he said during a conference break.

Dolan led the sexual abuse review for the St. Louis Archdiocese from January to August 2002, when he was transferred to Milwaukee.

Dolan said he could not believe that any bishop at the meeting could stand before his brother bishops, before his priests, before his diocese and still have a priest in active ministry who had abused a child. Like most dioceses, his is training all priests, teachers, volunteers and others who deal with children not just how to prevent child abuse but how to recognize signs that a child has already been abused.

Bennett said that in interviews with experts who talked about child abuse, he found himself weeping.

"Most victims are molested by their fathers, stepfathers, or uncles, but no one is talking about that," he said. Police departments and social agencies are underfunded in doing research or getting help to the victims of sexual abuse, he said, and he had hoped that by now that the clergy abuse crisis would put a broader spotlight on the issue for all children.

Said Bishop Joseph Galante of Dallas, "Every one of us has to earn the trust. We are long past the era when it is just given to us."

Before the conference began, Voice of the Faithful, a parish-based group with chapters in 182 churches, held a news conference to say that the Catholic laity has not accepted its responsibility to be watchdogs of the church.

"We have to stand up and hold the bishops' feet to the fire," said Steve Krueger of Boston, executive director of the group. At Aloe Park, across from the hotel where the bishops were meeting, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests held an hour-long afternoon vigil.

Holding black and white pictures taped to posterboard, parents, victims and supporters honored victims of clergy abuse who had taken their own lives.

"We're here today to honor the perhaps dozens of survivors who did not survive," SNAP board member Mark Serrano said.

Barbara Klump joined the vigil, honoring her son Christopher, who killed himself in March. The Klumps, of south St. Louis County, have filed a wrongful death suit in St. Louis Circuit Court alleging that abuse by the Rev. Michael S. McGrath led to Christopher's suicide.

"I think it's time for the church to come forward and admit their guilt if they want to go forward as a church," Klump said, holding a poster-sized picture of her son in his Marine uniform.

Another vigil was planned for Thursday night.


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