Bishops, Board Reach Deal on Abuse Survey
Commission Will Use Codes to Identify Priests Accused of Sexual Assault
By Laurie Goodstein
The New York Times
Downloaded June 20, 2003
ST. LOUIS - Roman Catholic bishops who balked at a survey to assess the scope of sexual abuse by priests met with members of their national lay review board and the survey designers for three hours Thursday and emerged saying their concerns had been resolved.
The agreement was reached three days after the board's chairman, Frank Keating, the former Oklahoma governor, had resigned and berated the bishops for refusing to disclose information about priest offenders.
The bishops said Thursday they always had intended to cooperate with the study, which they commissioned, but first had to overcome objections from their lawyers that the survey information about abusers and victims could be used by prosecutors and lawyers suing the church. The bishops said Thursday that their worries were alleviated once they agreed on a methodology that would keep the identities of the priest offenders confidential.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, said: "The only regret is everybody wishes we would have had these discussions earlier, perhaps in February, and then we wouldn't have had all these problems."
Concern about the survey had been especially intense among the bishops of California, where the statute of limitations has been lifted for one year, allowing suits from people who say they were abused years ago.
After several days of dismal headlines for the bishops, about both the Keating dispute and the Phoenix bishop who was charged for allegedly leaving the scene after a fatal hit-and-run car accident, some of the bishops were eager to say they could now proceed with the study.
Some bishops appeared resigned, and some resentful, that the issue of sexually abusive priests was still dogging them a year after they met in Dallas and passed a set of policies they called the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth."
In the only sessions open to the media, the bishops never discussed the abuse scandal. Instead, they debated policy statements on American agriculture, American Indians and church documents on deacons, women and laypeople. Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned as archbishop of Boston last December after revelations about extensive cover-ups of abuse, attended the meeting Thursday.
While the bishops insisted that they had made great progress in the last year implementing their sexual-abuse-prevention policies, abuse victims and their supporters at a vigil outside said the bishops had fallen short of their promises.
The Rev. Clyde Grogan, a priest at two parishes in East St. Louis, Ill., said: "Even in our own diocese, everything is still driven more by what the lawyers are telling the bishop and what the insurers will say. I think that's probably true in most dioceses."
The flap over the survey is one indication that bishops are deeply concerned about limiting their legal liability. The lay review board commissioned a team of researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York this spring to compile statistics about the number of abusers and victims, the ages and gender of victims, the treatment and discipline of offenders, and how much the dioceses spent to deal with the problem.
The results will be reported in the aggregate, with no information about individual dioceses. Some bishops had feared that the names of the priests could be revealed because the survey used information such as the priests' initials and birth dates to identify them so they would not be counted twice.
The dispute was resolved by John Jay researchers who suggested identifying the priests by a code instead, said Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, after the meeting.
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