Bishop Will Look to Chicago Archdiocese for Help
Policy governing sex abuse by priests to be reviewed; Lafayette Diocese's
Higi defends actions, criticizes series
By Will Higgins
February 20, 1997
[See links to all
the articles in this series from the Indianapolis Star.]
Bishop William Higi of the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette said Wednesday
that there will be a review of the diocese's policies on dealing with
priests charged with sexual abuse and misconduct.
"Our policies and procedures are doing what they were designed to
do, but I also know they are not perfect," Higi wrote in a three-page
statement sent to The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis
|Bishop William Higi criticized news stories.
The bishop said he will ask officials of the Chicago Archdiocese to
review his diocese's policies and procedures.
The Chicago Archdiocese, the developer of what is considered a model system
for investigating reports of sexual abuse among priests, helped the Lafayette
Diocese design its protocol.
Sexual abuse and misconduct among priests in the Lafayette Diocese were
the subjects of a series of stories that was published in the Indianapolis
newspapers earlier this week. Those stories were the result of an eight-month
investigation by The Star and The News.
The stories examined the unusual number of priests in the Lafayette Diocese
who have been accused of sexual abuse and misconduct. They further state
that once caught, even the worst predators get off easy and their transgressions
are kept under wraps.
Dr. Fred Berlin, director of a sexual disorders clinic at The Johns Hopkins
Hospital in Baltimore, said that nationally, 2 percent to 3 percent of
priests are accused of such misconduct.
The Star and News reporters found that the rate at the
Lafayette Diocese has been 16 percent.
Higi found great fault with the stories, decrying their "graphic
headlines, distasteful illustrations, and lurid details."
"To say that this is pure sensationalism is to grossly understate
what underlies this kind of tabloid journalism," he added. "Even
if everything that has been reported in these articles were absolutely
true and accurate (and I assure you that is not the case), it is not the
approach needed if progress is to be made in dealing with this horrible
Higi's statement will be printed Sunday on The Star's editorial
The statement does not specify any factual errors. Through a spokesman.
Higi refused to elaborate.
Moreover, Higi's chief assistant, Vicar General Robert Sell, was quoted
Tuesday in the Muncie Star Press as saying the church did not
dispute the stories' facts.
Neither Higi nor Sell could be reached for comment Wednesday. A spokesman
for Higi declined to elaborate on their statements.
On Tuesday, Higi sent letters to his priests in regard to the stories.
"Undoubtedly you know by now that the shoe has fallen," Higi
wrote. "The long, anticipated investigative report has been printed."
The bishop invited the priests to a "day long session to process
this trauma." The meeting is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 27.
"I believe it will be healthy if we talk about this, share the feelings
we are dealing with and formulate some ideas about where we go from here,"
In his public statement, Higi said there's a fundamental difference between
his view and the newspapers' on how to handle cases of victimization.
Higi writes: "The Star suggests that vengeance should drive
the process. (That) I am the one who should report offenders to county
prosecutors. Incarceration is the ultimate goal.
"I see my role very differently. It is to prevent further abuse while
providing healing for both those who feel they have been victimized and
those who are guilty of the victimization.
"Because my focus is on bringing healing to both victim and abuser,
I strongly disagree with the Indianapolis newspapers about how public
we can or should be about incidents of child abuse or sexual misconduct."