Group Praises 'Model Bishop'

By Carol Eisenberg
Newsday [St. Louis MO]
June 21, 2003

St. Louis - Some see them as relentless critics of leaders of the Roman Catholic Church. But Friday, the nation's largest advocacy group for sex abuse victims of priests heaped praise on a little-known New Jersey prelate as "a model bishop."

Bearing placards saying "Laity Involvement" and "Contributed to Prosecutions," members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests identified Bishop Paul Bootkoski of the diocese of Metuchen, N.J., as a leader worth imitating.

"We are here today to acknowledge that there is a bishop in America who is willing to apply common sense solutions to the crisis in the church," said Mark Serrano, a leader of the group. "Since one year ago in Dallas, this bishop has served as the model bishop in America for supporting clergy sexual abuse victims. This bishop stands in contrast among bishops across the country, and even the bishops in his own state of New Jersey, where victims do not have a safe place to turn for help in most of the dioceses."

Serrano said that Bootkoski had reached out to victims of priest sex abuse, meeting with them privately and apologizing to them. They noted that he is also the only bishop to name three victims of sex abuse to a diocesan lay panel that advises him on how to handle cases of credibly accused priests. The bishop had also been praised by a local prosecutor for cooperating in a successful criminal conviction of an abusive priest.

Reached at the conference, Bootkoski seemed embarrassed by all the attention. He said he was sure he was not the only bishop reaching out to victims of sex abuse. What, then, made him stand out?

"I think part of the problem is that some of the bishops are being advised by their lawyers to do certain things and not to do other things," he said. He said he tells lawyers for his diocese what he wants to do. "Our lawyers have a different attitude," he said. "We talk about it and then they say, 'Fine. Go ahead.'"


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