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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
Indianapolis Star
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 News.

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 societal problem."

Higi's statement will be printed Sunday on The Star's editorial page.

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," Higi wrote.

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."

 
 

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