Bishops Renew Pledge; Victims Await Actions

By Larry B. Stammer
Los Angeles Times
Downloaded June 22, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- The nation's Roman Catholic bishops, buffeted by controversy and new challenges to their credibility, declared Saturday that they have not wavered in their commitment to end sexual abuse in the church, but conceded there is "a long road ahead."

"There is still a long road ahead of us," Archbishop Harry J. Flynn told the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the closing day of their semiannual meeting here. "Our commitment has not wavered. We have made a pledge to our people and to the people of this nation and especially to the vulnerable ones and we will keep that pledge."

Despite the reassurances, members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a nationwide victims support and advocacy organization, said they remained unconvinced.

"We keep hearing lofty words from the bishops," Barbara Blaine, founder and president of the group said Saturday. "What we're going to do is judge them by their actions, not by their words."

The end of the bishops meeting capped three days of what some bishops called soul-searching and angst at a time when they had hoped they would be well on their way to putting the sexual abuse crisis behind them. Instead they felt compelled to reassure Catholics that they are good to their word -- and to list accomplishments during the past year.

Last year at this time in Dallas the bishops overwhelmingly approved a landmark master plan --the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth -- for bringing an end to sexual abuse by priests and deacons that has marred the church.

A new National Review Board called for in the charter has been created to hold bishops to their promises of reform in each of their 195 U.S. dioceses. The board hired a high ranking FBI official, Kathleen L. McChesney, as director of its Office of Children and Youth Protection. The board also launched the first of at least two studies to determine the extent and causes of sexual abuse in the church, dating to the 1950s. In addition, an estimated 500 priests have been removed from their ministries in keeping with the bishops' promise in Dallas of "zero tolerance" of abusive priests. Sexual abuse prevention training sessions and audits of dioceses are beginning.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles , won unanimous approval Saturday from the bishops in urging the review board and others to consider a second phase of the study, to begin in one or two years. He said that study would gather much more complete information on the extent of sexual abuse in the American church because there would be more time to gather it, and because cases now in civil and criminal courts will have been resolved by that time.


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