Bishop Decries Betrayal by Some Priests, Finds No Evidence of Abuse in Idaho

Associated Press State & Local Wire
March 25, 2002

The leader of Idaho's 120,000 Catholics is decrying what he labeled the betrayal of the people's trust by priests who have sexually abused children.

But Bishop Michael Driscoll said there is no evidence in Idaho of incidents similar to those in Boston, Palm Beach and other dioceses that have created a firestorm within the church.

"For any priest to misuse his power and take advantage of this sacred relationship in order to hurt another is despicable," Driscoll said in the Easter message he issued last week.

"To anyone in Idaho who may have been sexually abused as a child by a minister of the church, I am sorry and ask your forgiveness," he said. "Please contact me if you need support to pursue the healing of wounds inflicted by any representative of the Diocese of Boise."

But in an interview, Driscoll said neither he nor any other diocesan official has been contacted about any abuse allegations in Idaho. Counselors at SANE, Sexual Abuse Now Ended, also said they have received no hints of abuse incidents involving Catholic clerics since a highly publicized case in the 1980s.

The Rev. Mel Baltazar pleaded guilty in 1984 to lewd conduct with a 15-year-old boy he met while serving as chaplain at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. Prosecutors dropped additional abuse charges in return for the plea.

He served more than three years of a seven-year prison term before being paroled in 1988 to Villa St. John Vianney Hospital in Downington, Pa., for treatment. A hospital spokeswoman said on Tuesday that Baltazar is no longer there.

Damage suits were filed against Baltazar and the church by parents of two of the priest's alleged victims. One was settled for what the family attorney said was "several thousand dollars." The other was dismissed.

A second priest was quickly removed several years later after similar charges were leveled against him, Driscoll said.

The latest issue of the semimonthly Idaho Catholic Register included assurances from the bishop that the welfare and protection of children and other vulnerable people are a top priority.

Diocesan policy requires mandatory continuing education on sexual issues in the ministry for all clergy and paid employees or volunteers involved in any diocesan operation. Any allegation of sexual misconduct are immediately investigated, Driscoll said. If substantiated, the person is removed from duty and law enforcement is immediately notified.

The bishop said the diocese would provide spiritual counseling and help in securing and financing abuse counseling for victims.

"We are concerned that any victim of child abuse or sexual misconduct be nurtured, treated and healed," Driscoll said.

In his Easter message, the bishop urged Idaho Catholics to pray for those affected by the scandal in other dioceses, and he called on those preparing to become Catholics on Easter Sunday and on men considering the priesthood to stay the course.

"Please do not judge the entire church by the sins of a few," Driscoll said.

A diocese that once had 100 priests now has only 46, and the bishop acknowledged their anger toward "our brothers who have brought shame on themselves and on us, on the entire Catholic community.

"We might feel tempted to hide our affiliation, to put aside our Roman collars so that we are not recognized as a Catholic priest," Driscoll said. "And yet, we know that our presence in the greater community is a sign of the God who loves us all."


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