Diocese’s New Abuse Rules Late for Many, but Welcome

Portsmouth Herald [New Hampshire]
Downloaded January 6, 2004

When institutions get too big, ethics can lapse and corruption often sets in. We've seen it in big government, big business and, lately, we've seen it all too closely in big religion.

We've been tough on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester. With good reason. The diocese has spent upward of $20 million to settle 227 cases of child sexual abuse by clergy members. This scandal will forever remain a horrific blotch on the church's history.

But, just as we have been tough when we thought it was necessary, we'll also offer praise when appropriate. So we congratulate the church for its new policy on child sexual abuse. The new policy includes criminal background checks for all New Hampshire priests, mandatory reporting of suspected incidents of child sexual abuse, and comprehensive definitions of "inappropriate behavior" to leave no stone unturned.

The diocese will also implement a new Code of Ministerial Conduct, which will govern the behavior of all employees of the Catholic Church, including bishops, priests, nuns, teachers, custodians, lay workers and even volunteers.

It is high time the church address this issue in a meaningful and proactive way. However, to our way of thinking, it's never too late to do the right thing.

The policy stems from recommendations made by the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Policy. The Task Force issued these recommendations in January 2003, and we are impressed by the swiftness with which the diocese has implemented them. They will be fully implemented on March 19, 2004.

For the first time ever, there is now a clear course of action to address cases of sexual misconduct. Suspected incidents of sexual abuse by clergy must now be reported to the state Division of Youth, Families and Children, the local authorities and diocesan officials. It will be nearly impossible to cover up cases of sexual abuse, as the church has done in the past.

The new policy continues to hold information obtained during Catholic confessions inviolate. We respect that, though we pray this aperture does not become a loophole.

Monetary settlements are a sometimes satisfying - if callously insincere - form of apology, but are no substitute for proactive measures to ensure these kinds of scandals and crimes never occur again. The Diocese of Manchester's new policy will correct old wrongs if it does just that.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.