Abuse Scandal Is Now 'History,' Top Bishop Says
New York Times [Washington DC]
February 28, 2004
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 Just after the release on Friday of two long-awaited studies on the sexual abuse of children by more than 4,000 priests, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declared with emphatic finality in a news conference that the bishops had faced the problem, come clean and swept the church of abusers.
"I assure you that known offenders are not in ministry," the leader, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., said as he punched out his words. "The terrible history recorded here today is history."
One report said that "there must be consequences" for the leaders who failed to stop the abuses and that the bishops should hold one another accountable in the future. That did not satisfy critics, who said the church was continuing to sidestep the most sensitive and intractable issues that the scandal had raised.
In reacting to the reports, advocacy groups and reporters peppered the bishops with a host of questions like, Should not bad bishops be removed? Should the celibacy requirement for priests be abandoned? Should seminaries bar gay men?
And why have most bishops not released the names of offending priests, many of whom are living unsupervised and anonymously in the civilian world as a result of the church's new "zero tolerance" policy?
What Catholics want to know is has there been a pedophile priest in my parish or in my school?" said Peter Isely, a psychotherapist in Milwaukee who is a board member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "The most useful information the bishops have they're not giving us.
The reports, some of whose contents were disclosed late Thursday, a day before the official release, include a "just the facts" analysis based on figures from bishops and religious orders and prepared by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It tallies 4,392 reportedly abusive priests and the ways and sites in which they violated more than 10,667 children. One common scenario was plying a child with alcohol and molesting him in the parish residence.
More than 63 percent of the victims were abused more than once, and for some the assaults continued for years. Nearly 30 percent of the children were reportedly abused by the same priests for two to four years; 10 percent were abused over at least five and as many as nine years.
The more provocative report lays out the causes of the crisis. It was written by the members of a National Review Board of Catholic laypeople appointed by the bishops, who judged the group to have enough eminence and enough loyalty to the church to be entrusted with the task.
The chairman of that group was Robert S. Bennett, a former federal prosecutor. It included two judges, a law school dean, a psychologist, a psychiatrist and Leon E. Panetta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.
The board's report said that there "must be consequences" for those bishops, leaders of religious orders and seminary administrators who behaved negligently and criminally by failing to remove priests with histories of abuse from contact with children.
Lay groups and victims asked on Friday who will discipline church leaders, and how and when.
One bishop has lost his position for mishandling abusers. Cardinal Bernard Law was removed as archbishop of Boston, although he remains a cardinal and can vote for the next pope.
Sister Christine Schenk, executive director of FutureChurch, a reform group in Cleveland, said, "We need a system of checks and balances in the church."
The report suggested better "fraternal correction," meaning that bishops should keep one another accountable.
Jason Berry, a journalist who helped uncover the scandal nearly 20 years ago and who has written a new book on it, said: "Fraternal correction is a myth. It's never worked."
In a rebuttal to Bishop Gregory's contention that every single abuser had been removed from ministry, the survivors' network said nine bishops had let reported abusers remain in active ministry, with some in parishes.
On another point in the board report, church insiders and experts told the board members that there were far more priests sexually active with adult women and men than priests who abused youngsters.
On Friday, several church reform groups issued press releases that questioned the celibacy requirement for priests.
The report also says more than 80 percent of the victims were teenage boys. Because of that, bishops were repeatedly asked at their news conference whether gay candidates should be barred from seminaries. Bishop Gregory said the question was under consideration by the bishops' conference and the Vatican. He suggested that he would not favor an outright ban.
"We as bishops should not simply be examining those who may have a homosexual orientation," Bishop Gregory said. "Our screening should look at all unhealthy psychological behavior. I don't want anyone in the seminary who is selfish. I don't want anyone in the seminary who has a distorted view of himself, the narcissistic personality, all of the other qualities."
The report of the review board says the "paramount question" is whether a candidate for the priesthood is capable of celibacy and chastity, not sexual orientation.
"But given the nature of the problem of clergy sexual abuse of minors," the report says, "the realities of the culture today and the male-oriented atmosphere of the seminary, a more searching inquiry is necessary for a homosexually oriented man by those who decide whether he is suitable for the seminary and for ministry."
In an interview, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of Milwaukee said he agreed that gay candidates should be scrutinized more carefully than heterosexual candidates. "I would think there would be added temptations to the fruitful living of one's chastity," Archbishop Dolan said.
Perhaps the most immediate question that the church faces is what to do about the offenders it has removed from ministry. The bishops said on Friday that since their "zero tolerance" policy went into effect, the church has removed more than 700 priests since January 2002.
"Unfortunately," Bishop Gregory added, "some who have left, we have no way of knowing where they are. They've left the active ministry and are out in the world."
The church says it has neither the resources nor the personnel to monitor the thousands of inactive and former priests who victimized children. Many victims and lay advocates, as well as some prosecutors and experts on sex abuse, called on bishops and the leaders of religious orders to publicize abusers' names so that they cannot move to jobs as teachers or camp counselors.
"We need a C.D.C. for these kinds of offenses," said Dr. Paul McHugh, the psychiatrist who was on the review board and is a distinguished professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "If there had been, this epidemic that broke out would have become known."
Steven Penrod, a distinguished professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the John Jay study, which he worked on, suggests that the bishops were unaware of the enormous number of abuse cases in the church nationwide because they did not share information with one another.
"A central clearinghouse will undoubtedly come out of this," Professor Penrod said.
In interviews, bishops said although they were considering such a move, they had found reasons not to, including that priests named publicly might sue the church and that a victim might object out of fear of being exposed.
Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis, chairman of the bishops' ad hoc committee on sexual abuse, said: "I want to be sure that we're on safe ground legally. Whatever we do, we do it for the protection of children."
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