Dioceses Lag on Responses to Abuse Survey

By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times
November 12, 2003

WASHINGTON, Nov. 11 Nearly one-fifth of Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States have failed to respond to a survey on the extent of the sexual molestation of minors by priests, a church-appointed monitor said Tuesday, but she added that she was confident all would respond in time for sweeping reports on the abuse crisis to be released on Feb. 27.

The nation's Catholic bishops, meeting in Washington this week, received an update on the work of the National Review Board that they appointed 18 months ago to oversee efforts to overcome the abuse crisis.

An audit detailing the scope of the abuse from 1950 to 2002, including the numbers of accused priests, the abuse accusations and the financial cost to dioceses, had been expected next month, but some "foot-dragging" by bishops, poor record keeping and the difficulty in surveying large dioceses caused delays, said the monitor, Anne M. Burke, an Illinois appellate judge who is the acting chairwoman of the board. But Justice Burke said in an interview that she expected all of the nation's 195 dioceses to respond by Nov. 21.

"I really do think they're getting it," she said.

Some bishops had balked, causing the board's first chairman, Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma, to berate them and accuse them of Mafia-like behavior before he resigned.

The board also said a separate study of how well dioceses were complying with guidelines on protecting children was due on Jan. 6. And a third report, into the causes of the scandal, will come out in February at the same time as the audit, contributing to what will be more than 1,000 pages of studies, Justice Burke said.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, the president of the bishops' body, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told journalists that the reports would be hard for everyone, bishops, lay Catholics and victims of abuse. "Just to continue speaking of it is painful," Bishop Gregory said. "But the bishops of the United States decided we would make these matters known."

He said the bishops were "not at the finish line" but certainly had made "significant progress."

"The people are beginning to trust and believe that their local bishops are handling this thing appropriately," he added.

The review board said it would give its audit and report to the bishops 48 hours before its public release in February, to give them a chance to prepare a response.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, an organization of victims, criticized the bishops even before the update. At a news conference outside the meeting, it said that at least six priests with accusations against them were still in the ministry in violation of the bishops' promise to remove a violator with even one serious accusation against him.

Members of the group also criticized bishops as showing a tendency to remain secretive about the abuse, singling out Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, who has yet to disclose the names of priests permanently banned from ministry or allowed to return.

The bishops devoted only one session of the four-and-one-half-day meeting, which ends on Thursday, to the abuse scandal. On Tuesday morning, they entered the fray over same-sex marriages, introducing a text for a pamphlet that Catholics can use to make the argument that the only proper union is between man and woman and that anything else would give society's approval to homosexuality.

The bishops will debate and vote on the text on Thursday.

The statement calls marriage a "faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman," whose sexual differences complement each other. The union is part of the "divine plan for creation" and the only place for sex, which God intended to "serve the transmission of human life."

Giving such a gay union legal status would give "official public approval to homosexual activity and would treat it as if it were morally neutral," the document says.

The document adds that the Catholic view of marriage does not offend the dignity of gay men and lesbians.

The bishops said they were responding to a growing movement in favor of same-sex marriages.

"When marriage and family are in trouble, the church is in trouble," said Bishop Donald W. Trautmann of Erie, Pa. "The church needs now more than ever to go back and reinforce the church's understanding and tradition on marriage."

One practical issue at stake is the granting of rights like health and insurance benefits to gay partners. The document said it would be wrong to redefine marriage for that reason.

Gay rights activists who oppose the church's stance have been keeping a vigil outside the hotel where the bishops are meeting.

"People do not need to change their sexual orientation to be loved by God," said Laura Montgomery Rutt, a spokeswoman.


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