Priest Victims Want More Information
Audit's Release Has Critics Seeking Abusers' Names, Sanctions for Bishops

By Tom Heinen and Mary Zahn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Washington DC]
February 27, 2004

Washington - The Catholic hierarchy and the church's lay leaders alike hoped that the agony of the sexual abuse crisis would ease with the release Friday of a landmark study that counted the human toll and a report that attributed much of the cause to bishops and seminaries.

But the cup offered by the clerical and lay leadership was only half full from the perspective of some victims and reform groups - and even a national priests organization - even though church leaders said more needed to be done and would be done.

Those groups called for something that the 145-page study on the crisis by the church's lay-led National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People did not - that bishops who knowingly kept abusive priests in ministry be removed from their positions, that they resign, or that they otherwise be held accountable.

Both the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and the lay reform group Voice of the Faithful issued that call in back-to-back news conferences. SNAP also reiterated its call for all of the names of the 4,392 diocesan and religious priests who allegedly victimized children and youths from 1950 to 2002 to be released publicly. Only a few dioceses have done that.

In all, a team from John Jay College of Criminal Justice found 10,667 "substantiated allegations" of abuse by priests from 1950 through 2002.

The National Federation of Priests' Councils said it planned to carry the issue of episcopal responsibility to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee that Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan will begin chairing in March. That panel, on priestly life and ministry, is one of the chief conduits priests have to communicate with the bishops as a whole, even though it won't have authority to deal with the issue.

Priest federation President Father Robert J. Silva said bishops and others "who allowed these guys to be transferred around the country" should be held accountable. His organization represents about 27,000 priests and about 125 priest councils nationwide - including Milwaukee.

Asked at a news conference if he thought that bishops who knowingly transferred abusive priests should resign, Bishop D. Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. bishops, deflected the question by echoing some of the statements of Washington attorney Robert Bennett, the chairman of the lay research committee that drafted the report on the causes and contexts of the crisis.

"I'd like to refer to what Mr. Bennett said earlier in the previous news conference," Gregory said. "Each individual circumstance must be examined on its own merit."

Gregory said that bishops first must respond to the people of their dioceses, and that cases should go forward to the Vatican if there is merit.

Dolan, who appeared with Gregory at a news conference in Washington and later was interviewed, called the John Jay reports "deeply disturbing, but it was necessary." He said the caliber of today's seminarians offers a light of hope to the church for the future.

"What I would see the program of priestly formation doing is just strengthening and deepening what we're already doing," Dolan said. "I can't see too many radical changes, because what's working and what has been working pretty much since the early 1990s has worked well."

Dolan said he has not decided whether to release the names of priests accused of abuse in the Milwaukee archdiocese but might be persuaded to do so.

Peter Isely of Milwaukee, a national SNAP board member who was in Washington, D.C., Friday, said the bishops needed to do more.

"A number is the easiest thing that you can provide," Isely said. "It's not useful information. Catholics want to know, for instance, has there been a pedophile priest in my parish or my school? Now, that's useful information. And they have that information, and they need to give that information."

The report is likely to increase support for a bill in the Wisconsin Legislature that would make clergy mandatory reporters of sexual abuse and increase the number of years victims have to report the crime, said state Rep. Peggy Krusick (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), the bill's co-sponsors.

For some, such as Mike Sneesby of Milwaukee, the report brought back painful memories and a renewed resolve to work for continued reforms within the church.

Sneesby, 47, who said he was sexually abused, said the report was a start but did not go far enough.

"All of the perpetrators should be publically named," he said. "A lot of them are living out in the neighborhood among children."


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