Eastern Rite Catholic Diocese Defends Abuse Prevention Policy

Herald Tribune [Boston MA]
January 11, 2004

An Eastern rite Catholic diocese has been listed in an audit as one of the 19 dioceses that has not complied with a church-approved charter to prevent sexual abuse against children, but officials said they already had a strict policy in place.

The Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton, which is not Greek and actually based in Boston, has declined to cooperate with the Catholic church's nationwide study on clergy abuse. It has also not conducted background checks or trained priests and laity who work with children to spot abuse signs.

Nevertheless, church officials told the Boston Sunday Globe that they are committed to protecting children from abuse.

The eparchy, or diocese, has only had one instance of a minor being sexually abused by a priest, officials said. They said they learned of the case three years ago and immediately removed the priest from ministry.

Melkite officials Bishop John A. Elya and the Rev. Andre St. Germain had reservations about the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

St. Germain said the rules have been cumbersome and complex to implement for the fewer Eastern Catholic churches that have smaller budgets than many Roman Catholic parishes.

The Melkite diocese has an annual budget of roughly $700,000, which St. Germain said was not enough to develop or purchase an abuse-prevention training program. But he said the church is seeking assistance from the Roman Catholic dioceses near Melkite churches.

Boston archdiocese spokesman, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, has said that the archdiocese would "certainly allow our brother and sister Melkite Catholics to participate."

Although the diocese is based in Boston, the biggest concentration of Melkites is in the Detroit area and the largest church is in North Hollywood, Calif.

Aside from financial issues, the diocese's three officials cited cultural differences that made enforcing some of the rules difficult. St. Germain says the programs teach children to "watch out for Father," but the parish's Middle Eastern congregation is accustomed to displays of affection, which aren't deemed inappropriate.

"At coffee hour, just about every kid will come over and want a hug or a kiss - our parishes are very demonstrative and tactile," he said.

But the Melkite diocese does expect to begin running criminal background checks on workers with the help of a Melkite priest who is a former police detective.

The Melkite church enforced a strict code of conduct in the mid-1990s, prohibiting children in rectory rooms and requiring doors to be open when adults meet with minors.

But the eparchy will not participate in the nationwide abuse survey because the questions are too detailed, St. Germain said, adding it was hard to find information from records that the survey requested.

In the audit, eight of the 19 churches listed as not complying with the bishops' charter were Eastern Catholic churches.

The Rev. Joseph Loya, a Villanova University theology professor who researches Eastern Christianity, said Eastern Catholic churches shared a concern for the ministry with the Roman Catholic Church.

"No one is sloughing this off," Loya said.


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