Clergy Victims' Group Criticizes Church's New Sex-Abuse Policy
By Michael Hirsley
The leader of a national organization for victims of clergy sexual abuse expressed shock Tuesday that eight Roman Catholic priests accused of sexual misconduct involving minors have not yet been removed from their parishes in the Chicago Archdiocese.
"Those eight should be out of there, right now," said Jeanne Miller, president of Victims of Clergy Abuse Linkup, VOCAL, which she founded last year in Wheeling.
She said she was skeptical that any meaningful change in dealing with cases of priests' sexual abuse of minors would result from recommendations in a commission report that Cardinal Joseph Bernardin released Monday.
Bernardin, calling it a "landmark document" and a "blueprint for the future," said he intended to "have this new policy in place by this fall."
During a press conference Monday to distribute and discuss the 93-page report by a three-member commission he appointed last October, Bernardin said eight priests facing allegations of sexual misconduct with minors will be, but have not yet been, removed from their parishes.
They are under supervision, and it is deemed that "children are not at risk" in those parishes, he said.
"Mayer was supposed to be under supervision and pose no threat to children, and look what happened there," Miller said.
Her reference was to Rev. Robert Mayer, who is awaiting trial on charges that he abused a 14-year-old girl at St. Odilo parish school in Berwyn. After his removal, it was revealed that similar accusations had been made against him in previous assignments.
One accuser was Miller. She filed suit in 1982, alleging that Mayer had exposed himself to and tried to undress several altar boys, including her 13-year-old son. The case was settled out of court.
Miller also testified before the commission whose report on clerical sexual misconduct with minors will serve as Bernardin's guideline on new policy.
In its report, the commission noted that the archdiocese has no legal obligation to report child sexual abuse cases to law enforcement agencies. It is up to victims or their parents to initiate criminal investigations. Among all the recent allegations, only Mayer has been indicted and faces trial on criminal charges.
The commission - stating that victims and their families bringing complaints to the church in the past have often done so with requests for confidentiality - opted to recommend that the archdiocese continue its investigations internally in these cases.
A spokesman for Cook County State's Attorney Jack O'Malley said, "We have asked the archdiocese outside counsel, Mayer Brown & Platt, for the names of the eight priests that have been or are about to be reassigned. Until yesterday we didn't know there were eight priests who were the subject of any allegations regarding child sexual abuse."
Aware of its recommendations, but still waiting to read the report, Miller said Tuesday, "I'm thrilled that the church has addressed the sex abuse issue and they're worried about it.
"But I'm concerned that many of the policies it recommends are the same ones that have been in place for years. And, I'm upset that this policy, like the one before it, leaves room for exceptions and uses language such as 'if applicable,' to create loopholes."
She cited policy recommendations for a non-clergy "case manager," who would replace a clergyman, the vicar for priests, as director of investigations.
Once the case manager has been notified of an allegation, according to the commission recommendations, his response should be to notify the cardinal, the nine-member review board that would replace the present advisory board, and "if applicable . . . the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services."
"I think there should be a mandatory report to the state," Miller said.
In releasing the commission report and vowing to implement it quickly, Bernardin said the past nine months - in which removal of seven priests from parishes because of sex abuse allegations involving minors kept a harsh glare of publicity over the archdiocese - "have been very difficult for me, a very painful journey."
He spent much of that time talking with priests and families involved in such cases, he said, adding, "I come to you today as a pastor interested in anyone touched or affected by this problem."
One of those people is Joan Runge of La Grange Park, who wasn't able to publicly accuse an archdiocesan priest of sodomizing her until nearly five decades after it happened and years after the priest had died.
She praised the report's recommendation of a 24-hour hot line to accept allegations of abuse, and the recommendation that one member of the nine-member permanent review board be a victim of child sexual abuse or the parent of a victim.
"Only such a person has any idea how this can affect the whole lives of victims and their families," she said. "These are not cases where a little counseling and a little rehabilitation make everything OK. You need someone who has felt what the victims feel."
VOCAL president Miller was asked what would satisfy her, in lieu of the new proposals, as a church response to priest pedophilia and sexual abuse of minors.
"In a perfect world," she said, "the church would be so appalled by this situation that it would cease any other activity to deal with this problem, until every pedophile is out of the priesthood and dealt with appropriately.
"Any bishop who doesn't deal with it immediately and appropriately would be prosecuted by civil authorities for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to commit a crime."
Miller feels "the church now is responding to a threat to their
revenue, a threat of lawsuits and losing insurance."
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