So 'History' Doesn't Repeat

By Cathy Lynn Grossman
USA Today [United States]
Dawnloaded March 1, 2004

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, calls the abuse scandal "history" now. But everyone touched by it has a role in changing the future, many say.

Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, says he already consults priests and laity in setting policies for the archdiocese. "We are now beginning to share information on a topic on which we never used to share information before."

The National Review Board will continue monitoring bishops' compliance with the church policy on reporting and preventing abuse, but priests and people in the pews must step up as well, says Illinois Appellate Judge Anne Burke, head of the board.

"Why does it have to be all 'You (the bishops) gotta do it'? Do it yourself," says Burke. "It's a collaboration of the priests and the laity, too. Those good priests are out there looking for an opportunity to have some leadership roles in this."

That's not enough, some say.

"We see many of our brother priests being sanctioned and rightly so for crimes they committed. But if there are bishops who were complicit by their negligence, we would expect that they would be sanctioned for gross negligence," says the Rev. Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests Councils.

"The sick structure that led to this crisis has to change," says Linda Pieczynski, a founder of Chicago-based church reform group Call to Action. They say the laity should consult on the choice of priests and bishops, rather than accepting " 'yes men' chosen in secret in Rome. If you had married persons and women at all levels, including ministry, a lot of these problems would have been discovered a lot sooner."

Voice of the Faithful, the Boston lay Catholic group that led the call for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, is running ads calling for the pope to meet with victims, for bishops who covered up abuse to be ousted, and for bishops to "fully cooperate with any civil and criminal investigations," says founder and president Jim Post.

David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says the group will "continue to push for changes in civil and criminal statutes of limitations on prosecuting abuse allegations. We'll continue to push for the names of abusers so people will know who and where they are. We'll continue to preach skepticism and vigilance and genuine reform for church leadership.

"But 90% of the time, we are there to support survivors and encourage them to come forward. They already are. I saw three messages on my e-mail last night," says Clohessy.

And look beyond the church doors at the horror of sexual abuse in the greater society, says another review board member, Washington lawyer Robert Bennett. He repeatedly cites a federal study that found nearly 90,000 substantiated cases of sexual abuse of minors in 2001 alone.


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