Church to Check How Diocese Dealing with Sex Abuse Claims

By Brian Lyman bmlyman@norwich.gannett .com
Norwich Bulletin [Norwich CT]
Downloaded June 25, 2003

NORWICH -- The Diocese of Norwich will be audited next month by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to evaluate its response to sex abuse allegations.

The Conference's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the church's policy on sexual abuse, requires all 195 dioceses in the United States to be studied for compliance with the charter.

Norwich Bishop Michael R. Cote said Tuesday he was pleased with the implementation so far, saying it was being put in place in a "step-by-step" process.

Auditors already have begun their work, and will look at 11 dioceses a week through October. The Norwich diocese will be visited the week of July 7.

Kathleen McChesney, director of the U.S. Bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, said the office is looking to see that the bishops' policy is being followed.

"There is a team of auditors that will go to each diocese and spend a week or so doing interviews and looking at documents and policies," she said. "From that they will make an evaluation as to how a diocese is complying with the provisions of the charter."

If a diocese is doing poorly, the group will look for the reasons why.

"Just because there isn't compliance, we don't imply they are refusing to comply," McChesney said. "If they need assistance, then we'll provide assistance. The goal is to get them all to comply."

The diocese settled a lawsuit in March with a John Doe who claimed he had been molested numerous times in the early and late 1990s. At least two other lawsuits are pending.

Cote, who became Norwich bishop in May, has said he would follow the process established by the bishops.

While the sex abuse scandal was still in the air, Cote said, the U.S. Bishops' Conference in St. Louis, which he attended last week, was more relaxed than last year's meeting, when the sex abuse scandals were unfolding.

"Obviously, it was far, far calmer than the one last June in Dallas," Cote said. "There was a sense among the bishops that a lot had happened over the course of the year."

There were a few blows, though. Shortly before the bishops met, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating resigned as chairman of the National Review Board, investigating claims of sexual abuse, after comparing the bishop's unwillingness to cooperate with investigators to the Mafia.

"His remarks, I think, were unfortunate, and did not reflect reality," Cote said. "But that's Gov. Keating."

Members of the conference also debated whether to call a plenary council, or an assembly of bishops, priests and laity to discuss problems facing the church, including declining membership.

The need for council, which would convene in three years at the earliest, is being debated. Cote said he had not made up his mind on the subject, but said the U.S. Conference of Bishops fills the role plenary councils once did. The last one in the United States was called in 1884.

"I think it's hard to say at the moment, because I'm not sure what the focus would be," Cote said. "I think if the issues were broadened, it would make more sense."


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