Critics Fault Indiana Catholic Reforms
Local Diocese Adopted Abuse Policy Years before National Charter

By Ken Kusmer
The News-Sentinel [Indiana]
October 30, 2003

Indiana's Roman Catholic bishops are taking steps to root out child abuse in their dioceses and remove potential predators from staff and volunteers, but critics said the reforms do not go far enough.

Critics both outside and within Indiana's largest denomination said the reforms fall short of dealing with the problem of sexual abuse of children by priests that prompted American bishops to adopt a child protection charter in Dallas in June 2002.

The critics said the reforms lack accountability and do little to restore the trust the scandal has cost the bishops.

The first national audit of how each U.S. diocese has complied with the Dallas charter is due to be completed by Nov. 21 and will be made public in January, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Bishops also will hear an update on the scandal when they meet Nov. 10-13 in Washington.

The Evansville Diocese this week held training for youth protection coordinators to serve in each of its parishes and schools. The sessions that ended Wednesday included a presentation by a state child protection worker and a discussion of creating safe environments for children.

"We regret that any child or young person was ever abused by someone working in the name of the church," Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger said. "We are committed to healing these wounds and, to the best of our ability, to seeing that this does not happen again."

Since the U.S. scandal broke in Boston in February 2002, the diocese has removed three priests accused of molesting from ministry and reinstated two others after investigations. The Indianapolis archdiocese has publicized allegations against at least three priests.

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend removed a deacon from service in May after his arrest for indecent exposure in a Fort Wayne park.

It's not clear how many Catholic priests in Indiana have been removed from ministry or were investigated for sexually abusing children. A Boston-based support group called Survivors First claims at least 20 Catholic priests in Indiana have faced legal action or public allegations since the scandal broke.

Each of Indiana's five dioceses, which collectively serve about 760,000 Roman Catholics, have had policies for protecting children in place for years if not decades. Some formulated policies in the wake of a previous outcry over clerical child abuse in the 1990s.

Bishop John M. D'Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese instituted a policy shortly after becoming bishop here in May 1985. The policy calls for investigation of allegations of sexual abuse by priests or lay people. Disciplinary action, including removal from service as a priest, will be taken where allegations are substantiated. Suspected criminal activity will be reported to law-enforcement authorities.

Since the passage of the Dallas charter, dioceses have updated those policies. Staff and volunteers are required, in most cases, to report suspected child abuse directly to state child protection authorities. The dioceses also have created boards to review allegations brought against priests and begun criminal background checks of staff and volunteers working with children. Some, such as athletic coaches, already were receiving background checks.

"The amount of change needed here was minimal," said Suzanne Magnant, the chief legal officer for the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

When the archdiocese learns of an accusation against a priest, it meets as soon as possible with the person bringing the charges and investigates the suitability of the priest to continue in ministry. Eventually, the review board recommends whether the priest should continue in ministry. Archbishop Daniel Beuchlein makes the final decision, Magnant said.

Brian Olszewski, a spokesman for the 185,000-member Gary Diocese, said volunteers and staff have not resisted the background checks and training.

"What we're sensing is that people understand that this is everyone's concern, that they need to be aware of this," he said.

But Andrea Marshall, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, said simply putting policies in place does not fix the problem. What matters is how the policies are applied and enforced.

"We have often been disappointed with historical practices where this was kept within the church family," Marshall said.

"It's not just a Catholic thing, and people need to realize that," Marshall said. Her organization also has encountered child abuse cases in many Protestant and non-mainstream faiths.

Jay Carrigan, a co-chair of the Indianapolis chapter of the Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful, said bishops need to begin sharing power with the laity.

"I think the underlying cause of the sexual abuse scandal is clericalism, and the only way that is going to be combatted is by having a strong lay voice in the governance of the church," said Carrigan, a priest who voluntarily left active ministry in 1970.


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