The Church's Hair-Splitting

Orange County Register [California]
Downloaded August 6, 2003

Will the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange ever learn the right lessons from its sexual abuse scandal?

It's hard to say, especially after Bishop Tod Brown said in published reports that "a clear, written policy doesn't exist" with regard to church leaders and child pornography.

The diocese is denying that it violated its zero-tolerance policy by not removing - until it was embarrassed into doing so by press reports - from active ministry two priests accused of having child porn on their computers, and a choir director who was convicted in 1985 of lewd conduct with a teen-ager.

Lewd conduct with a minor seems to clearly violate the policy. But what about child pornography?

The diocese's "Policy Against Sexual Misconduct," dated September 2002, explains that "clergy who have been adjudicated or appropriately adjudged guilty of, or who have engaged in child molestation will not be reassigned or readmitted to ministry." It doesn't mention removing priests for reasons related to child pornography.

But on page one, the policy states "Sexual misconduct, in all of its forms, is wrong and will not be condoned." Underneath that description are definitions. The fifth item: "Sexual Exploitation: Refers to conduct related to child pornography or other activities that are intended to subject minors and/or vulnerable persons to harm of a sexual nature."

So clearly the diocese considers child pornography to be a form of sexual misconduct. It's right there on page one. The diocese didn't return our call, so we don't know why it insists on splitting hairs.

The bigger question is why the diocese doesn't follow the spirit of its policies.


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