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  Locals Say Report Does Enough; Expert Says More Frankness Needed

By Joe Thomas and Bob Scott
Journal and Courier [Lafayette IN]
Downloaded January 1, 2004

Those dealing with claims of sexual abuse on minors by Roman Catholic priests say parishioners need to know more about how church officials deal with cases. But some parishioners have little or no desire to know many details.

The split comes as Bishop William Higi released on Wednesday a new report highlighting claims on sexual abuse of minors by priests in the Diocese of Lafayette. Higi said he released the information so Catholics across the diocese will know what has happened in their churches.

"I am sharing this information because national studies soon to be released are bound to receive media attention," Higi wrote in his weekly column in The Catholic Moment. "The figures reported will be in aggregate. You need to know the experience of this diocese."

Few of the more than one dozen Catholics contacted for this story wanted to discuss the issue at all. But Joe Bumbleburg, a St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral parishioner, said he needs to know only generalities. And he feels comfortable with what he knows.

"I guess what I need to know is not so much the experience of the diocese but that my grandchildren are safe in the Catholic schools, and I think they are," said Bumbleburg, who has one grandchild in the local Catholic schools.

But a Massachusetts man who monitors priestly abuse claims said the diocese needs to take one more step.

Paul Kendrick is co-director of bishopaccountability.org, a Wellesley, Mass.-based Web site devoted to chronicling reports of abuse by Catholic priests. He applauded the Lafayette diocese for disclosing the nine people who are on its Diocesan Review Board for investigating complaints of sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

But he questioned why the diocese refuses to take the next step -- naming priests who have been disciplined by the church for sexually abusing minors. And until Higi takes that step, parishioners will remain in the dark about the truth in these cases.

"It's an incomplete picture of what happened in the Lafayette Catholic diocese," said Kendrick, a practicing Catholic who lives in Portland, Maine.

For Bumbleburg, though, knowing the diocese has a program satisfies him.

"All I need to know is that the system is vigilant and I believe it is," he said.

Since 1997, that system has resulted in two Lafayette priests losing their ministries for sexual misconduct with adults. In that same time, the diocese dealt with two abuse claims against the Rev. Donald Eder, who remains at St. Patrick Church in Oxford. A 1997 lawsuit against the diocese ended in a confidential settlement, and a review board failed to substantiate allegations of a similar claim from another woman.

Kendrick called for church leaders to talk frankly with their members if they want to move past these incidents.

Lt. Jason Dombkowski, a West Lafayette police officer who serves on the diocesan review board for handling accusations of sexual abuse, said the board accomplishes that.

"Openness is the key," he said. "I've been on the board since 1997 or 1998. I would not stay on the board if the bishop was trying to hide things," Dombkowski said.

"Bishop Higi and Monsignor (Robert) Sell have put a lot of effort into the board to consist of members from all over the community," he said.

Dombkowski was raised Roman Catholic, but now is a practicing Lutheran who worships at St. James Lutheran Church. He said he was recruited because he is a non-Catholic and has law enforcement experience. He contended that the Lafayette diocese has been ahead of the national crisis.

"Bishop Higi has been above the curve in trying to enact policies," he said. "Before it was a national problem, this diocese was trying to deal with the problem."

Higi's report said the nine diocesan priests found to have credible charges against them make up about 3 percent of the 295 diocesan priests who have served Lafayette since 1950.

Kendrick, however, noted that the Lafayette diocese figure is three times the national average of sexual abuse reports among diocesan priests.

He also was critical of the fact that the Lafayette diocese spent twice as much on the care of priests involved in the sexual abuse than it did on the victims -- $147,201 for medications and therapy for victims vs. $324,007 for medications and therapy for the alleged perpetrators.

Kendrick said he believes Catholic parishioners want their church to deal with the issue.

"It's my impression that Catholics want to fix the problem. But to do that, we have to know what the problem is. This report falls short of accomplishing that."
 
 
 

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