State Bishops Say They Are Accountable
Sex Abuse: Church Leaders Cite Changes Brought on by Scandal
By Nicole Tsong
Anchorage Daily News [Alaska]
February 28, 2004
In the furor over the latest, most detailed reports on clergy sex abuse yet, all three Alaska Catholic bishops said Friday they have become more accountable and promised to continue in that vein.
At a press conference marking the official release of the national reports, Alaska's sitting bishops, joined by retired Anchorage Archbishop Francis Hurley, said the days of bishops behaving as if they didn't answer to anyone but the pope are gone. They are now as accountable to the public and their faithful as to the Holy See, they said, with increasing oversight by lay boards and committees in the parishes and dioceses.
Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler said his mostly lay committee that hears allegations of sexual misconduct has taught him how to better handle the issue of clergy sexual abuse. The committee includes people who are outside the church and thus have a different perspective.
"We're going to do so much better than if I do it all by myself," he said. "That's the greatest lesson I've learned."
Hurley said as he read the report, the word that came to him was accountability.
"You will hear us apologizing often, and I hope you will understand that, at least as I say it, it's more a reminder to myself of what has happened and my particular part in it," he said. "This document, and particularly that of the National Review Board, is a demand that the bishops be called to accountability and that the bishops at times call others to accountability. ... We have to be publicly accountable."
Two studies released Friday found that priestly sexual abuse of children was widespread in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church and involved at least 4 percent of priests over a period of 52 years, with 10,667 people accusing 4,392 priests of abusing them as children between 1950 and 2002.
The Alaska results in one of the studies, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, were already made public by bishops over the last month. The study was based on surveys of dioceses and religious orders on the number of accused priests, their victims and the church response.
In Anchorage, three priests had credible allegations of sexual abuse out of 301 priests who served in the archdiocese, or about 1 percent, with six total victims. In Juneau, three priests, or 3 percent, were also cited. The Fairbanks diocese reported two out of 145 priests, or less than 2 percent, had abused a total of nine victims. Fairbanks church officials have since learned of a third abusive priest.
In Anchorage, if visiting priests or clergy on special assignments here, such as with the military, are excluded from the total, the portion of clergy accused of abusing children rises to about 3 percent.
The National Review Board commissioned the other study also released Friday, which was based on interviews of bishops, cardinals, Vatican officials, experts and some victims as well as data from John Jay researchers. The study blamed the church leadership for not responding appropriately or preventing abuse from happening, and also criticized a culture that did not properly prepare seminarians for the priesthood and also did not properly screen candidates. The study also recommended accountability between bishops and through consultive groups.
With the pressure for accounta- bility, Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz said Friday he is reconsidering his decision to not name accused priests who haven't already been publicly identified. Two of the three cited in the John Jay study have not been named.
The third was Anchorage's Monsignor Francis Murphy, who sexually abused several boys in the 1970s and 1980s. The survey of Anchorage did not include the Rev. Timothy Crowley, who was accused of abusing a boy in Lansing, Mich., but faced no allegations here.
Schwietz said he has not named priests out of concern for the privacy of victims, but "one argument that has struck me to the heart is parents want to know who are the perpetrators," so they can talk to their children, he said.
So he is asking the permission of victims to release the other two names, he said. He added that one priest is still alive but the other is dead. Murphy, the third, is retired in Cuba, N.M., and is not allowed to minister.
Juneau Bishop Michael Warfel said the names of the Juneau priests are public. Kettler said one priest's name was already public because of a lawsuit. A second priest wasn't named because the allegation came in the form of a telephone inquiry from a possible victim who has not yet come forward with details. He was not naming a third priest because the victim asked the diocese not to, Kettler said.
The bishops did not speak about the death of Service High principal Pat Podvin, a victim of Murphy who apparently killed himself earlier this week. In a statement made at the beginning of the press conference, the Podvin family requested that the bishops not speak about his death, said Sister Charlotte Davenport, Anchorage's chancellor.
Podvin was the first victim in Anchorage to speak publicly of his abuse by Murphy, stepping forward in a television interview last February.
Despite the scandal, Schwietz said, he now feels liberated to speak to people outside of the church about the problems church officials face in resolving issues of clergy sexual abuse. The fear of causing more scandal has passed, he said.
"We've really gone beyond that," he said. "I really feel that now there is more of an opportunity for us to be free in dealing with this area."
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