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  Text from Arcgbishop Lipscombs News Conference

The Mobile Register [Mobile AL]
March 19, 2003

In September 1995, we put in place an archdiocesan policy on sexual misconduct indicating that anyone guilty of such activity shall be appropriately disciplined by penalties, including termination of employment if appropriate. It then adds specifically: " ... Clergy and religious in similar circumstances will be disciplined with penalties ranging up to suspension from the exercise of their ministerial duties, according to the provisions of Canon Law. Further penal sanctions, including but not limited to dismissal from the clerical state, may be contemplated."

In June and November 2002, the Catholic bishops of the United States in plenary assemblies at Dallas and in Washington crafted and approved a "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" in response to widespread evidence of sexual abuse of minors by our priests. Its preamble renewed a moral commitment in these words: "Let there now be no doubt or confusion on anyone's part: For us, your bishops, our obligation to protect children and young people and to prevent sexual abuse flows from the mission and example given us by Jesus Christ himself, in whose name we serve."

Article 1 and Article 2 of the Charter appropriately address the "first obligation" of the church with regard to victims and their families offering support for healing, with a commitment to spiritual and emotional well-being.

Article 5 deals with specifically and extensively with perpetrators of such abuse, noting in part that when sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or a deacon is admitted or established, "Diocesan policy will provide that for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor -- past, present or future -- the offending priest will be permanently removed from ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants."

On Dec. 12, 2002, the Conference of Bishops received from Rome the Essential Norms. Those are laws, dealing with allegations of such abuse, which became effective for the Church in the United States on March 1, 2003. Norm 8 explicitly repeats Article 5 of the Charter and adds canonical considerations governing any process. "When even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offend ing priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants."

In February 1997, I received a credible allegation of such abuse against Father Alexander Sherlock. When confronted, he admitted the incident dating from the mid-1970s. Already I had contacted the victim through his counselor and offered an apology and assistance. This approach, and his program, has been successful, largely due to the balance and personal resources -- stamina, insights, will -- of the victim. The process is ongoing.

Father Sherlock underwent extensive psychological examination, evaluation and treatment at the conclusion of which his therapist reported, in a letter to me: "The profile shows no indication of sexual deviation or other abnormal behavior on Father Sherlock's part." He closed, "We will continue to engage in therapy sessions over the next year."

Nevertheless, I determined that the priest could not remain in his current position as pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Mobile. He requested and was given an assignment in July 1997 to St. Peter's Parish in Montgomery, where he had been born and raised. After the year 2000, as a result of publicity given to such cases, two additional allegations, both very old, were received and verified. I met with both victims and offered assistance. Additional psychiatric interaction with Father Sherlock has continued to the present but still did not diagnose the priest as a pedophile or dangerous person.

In January 2003, I informed Father Sherlock that particular law governing his case would be operative as of March 1, and I would be obliged to remove him. We discussed alternatives. Deeply affected by remorse and shame, he requested that he be permitted to resign for reasons of health. He had been under the medical care of a psychiatrist as a result of his situation for three years. Certification of his condition by the doctor accompanied his letter of resignation. After consultation with a senior bishop as to the possibility of such a course of action, I agreed....

Two factors influenced this decision to let Father resign for reasons of health. The first was Father Sherlock's long and effective history of good pastoral care during his 37 years of ordained ministry. The second was my direct contact with the victims in those three very early incidents. The extent of damage to these individuals was, and is, profound. I offered help and in one case it was accepted to good effect. The other two individuals appreciated the offer but were doing well and declined assistance. They were most anxious -- all were anxious -- that Father Sherlock himself receive help and be so situated that future abuse would not happen. To the best of my ability, I thought that we were meeting such safeguards.

Last week, however, I became convinced as the result of a further credible allegation that Father Sherlock had not been truthful as to the extent of his past abusive activity. Already I had altered the language of his public resignation to exclude health as the reason when it received print notice in the Catholic Week. Upon my return to the archdiocese on Saturday evening, March 15, I made arrangements to meet with St. Peter's Parish in Montgomery to offer an explanation and apology.

Similar meetings will be held as soon as possible with other parishes where the priest has held the office as pastor....

The first will be at St. Pius X Parish on Saturday, the 22nd of March at 1 p.m. The second at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish on Monday, the 24th, at 8 p.m. The final one at St. Thomas Parish, Chickasaw, on March 26th, at 7 p.m.

Additionally, in keeping with Norm 11, I have been in touch with the office of the District Attorney to express our willingness to cooperate in every way possible for the sake of whatever investigation might be deemed appropriate.

 
 

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