Bishop: Scandal Is 'Rallying Point'

By Eric Convey
Boston Herald [Washington DC]
November 11, 2003

WASHINGTON - The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said yesterday two years of turmoil over clergy sexual abuse have done more to damage the ties that bind Catholics together than anything else "in our recent history."

"If the scourge of sex abuse is to be effectively eliminated, then the energy of the whole church needs to be directed to this end," Bishop Wilton Gregory told fellow church leaders gathered for their semi-annual meeting here.

As he has during each of the previous three meetings since the scandal broke in January 2002, Gregory apologized for the failure of some bishops to adequately protect their flocks and appealed for forgiveness.

Yesterday, he went a step further and said the crisis should become a "rallying point" for Catholics who want to make a safer church and a safer society.

The remarks were noteworthy in part because Gregory is a theological conservative and outspoken supporter of the church's hierarchical nature.

"I thought his remarks were very encouraging," said Steve Krueger, executive director of the Newton-based lay advocacy group Voice of the Faithful. "Everything he said opens the door to dialogue."

Gregory's remarks drew criticism from some victims' advocates who were upset that he suggested the church is poised to move beyond the scandal.

"Contrary to statements made by Bishop Gregory and others, we aren't turning the corner here," said Paul Baier of the group Survivors First.

Bishops have yet to pay the price for their mismanagement of the crisis, Baier charged at a news conference where Survivors First released data on the extent of the abuse problem. "There's no moral authority here until we understand how we got here and who's responsible," he said.

Also at the conference, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops said yesterday they are considering whether to recommend sanctions for Catholic politicians who favor policies contrary to church teaching on abortion, the death penalty and other issues.

"We face a serious pastoral challenge. Some Catholic politicians defy church teaching in their policy advocacy and legislative votes, first and most fundamentally on the defense of unborn life," said Pensacola-Tallahassee Bishop John Ricard. "Some Catholic legislators choose their party over their faith."

When the meeting continues today, bishops are scheduled to hear a lengthy report on how well the church has responded to the scandal.


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