Bishops Doing Little on Abuse, Group Charges
By Ann Rodgers-Melnick
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [St. Louis MO]
June 19, 2003
ST. LOUIS -- A group of sexual abuse survivors blasted the nation's Catholic bishops yesterday, saying they had made little progress in responding to allegations against priests -- but cited Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh as one of five who they said may have lived up to the bishops' commitment to zero tolerance.
"We have absolutely not seen the bishops' words match their actions," said survivor advocate Paul Baier of Wellesley, Mass., comparing the bishops' deeds to the promises in their year-old Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. He spoke one day before the bishops' regular summer meeting begins here.
He called the bishops' conduct since the adoption of that charter worse than the most pessimistic predictions that survivors' groups had made, and said that he could cite no major accomplishment by the national lay review board appointed to monitor the bishops.
Baier, founder of Survivorsfirst.org, a database of public abuse allegations, said he knew of at least eight cases in which accused priests remained in ministry. He said many dioceses have not created lay review boards for such cases and, where they have, have often not made the members' names public or included a survivor of sexual abuse.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh has had a lay review board since 1993 -- and since that time it has included parents of a child who was sexually abused by a priest, Wuerl said. The board now consists of 30 people with expertise in areas such as law, psychology and social work, of which five may be chosen for any given case. But Wuerl said he was not aware of any requirement for the names of members to be made public, and he was not sure what purpose that would serve.
Wuerl said he understood the survivor groups' frustration and anger.
"Their members are people who have suffered intensely. Because of that, I want to be as understanding of where they are, and of what they are feeling, and of their needs, as I can," he said.
In a statement released by Baier, the group cited Wuerl, along with bishops Sean O'Malley of Palm Beach, Fla., William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., Michael Warfel of Juneau, Alaska, and John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., as five out of 195 who may possibly "have lived up to their commitments."
Baier said the national lay review board on sexual abuse has "had a year and nothing has gotten done." He said if victim groups did not see progress within six months, they would call for board members to resign.
But Wuerl said the board was hard at work, and that the Diocese of Pittsburgh had recently been notified that it would be audited by a board-appointed team of former FBI agents to see if it was responding properly to allegations of child sexual abuse. The bishops were told the report will be done in December. Board members have long said the report would name bishops who did not comply with the charter.
"So they intend to move on that very quickly," Wuerl said. "We've been working for some time to make sure that everything the charter calls for is in place and we'll be able to demonstrate that we've been doing it for a long time."
William Burleigh, a member and spokesman for the National Lay Review Board, said that it is "not beneficial to engage in a debating contest" with the victim groups. But he said the board's work "speaks for itself" and will be outlined at a July 29 news conference in Chicago.
Baier's database at www.survivorsfirst.org now cites 1,068 priests against whom public allegations have been made since 1960. It does not attempt to determine whether the allegations are true, he said. Some omissions and errors that appeared in the Pittsburgh listings last year have been corrected, although at least one convicted child molester, the former Rev. Richard Zula, is not on the list.
Baier said he was creating a site, www.bishopaccountability.org, which would have both public records and newspaper articles pertaining to the way abuse cases were handled in various dioceses.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.