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  Bishops' Abuse Response 'Shameful'
Report: Officials Shielded Abusers, Neglected Victims

By Peter Smith psmith@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
March 1, 2004

Roman Catholic bishops did a "shameful" job of dealing with the crisis of sex abuse by priests protecting the abusers while treating victims with hostility, a new report says.

And it says bishops, along with seminaries, long failed to adequately screen and prepare candidates for the rigors of the celibate priesthood.

Those conclusions came in a sharply critical report released yesterday by a board of prominent lay Catholics, who found that "these leadership failings have been shameful to the Church as both a central institution in the lives of the faithful and a moral force in the secular world."

Even after two years of apologies by bishops and criticisms from many quarters, the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People's criticisms represent a harsh rebuke of Catholic shepherds by members of their flock.

"Somehow, the `smoke of Satan' was allowed to enter the Church, and as a result the Church itself has been deeply wounded," the report said. "...This is not a public relations battle for the approval of the press or the loyalty of the laity. It is, fundamentally, the age-old issue of good and evil. The Church must be holy."

The lay board, established by bishops in 2002 at the height of the clergy abuse crisis, released its report in conjunction with a separate study finding that between 1950 and 2002, about 4 percent of all Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing more than 10,000 victims.

That separate study, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, revealed that 4,392 priests nationally have been accused of abuse between 1950 and 2002, though researchers said they will never be able to tell how many accusations are credible.

That 4 percent figure is lower than the nearly 6 percent in the Archdiocese of Louisville and the 9 percent in the Diocese of Covington, Ky., according to figures released by those dioceses over the past week.

A total of 10,667 people said they were abused nationally, according to the John Jay study, which also found that the church paid nearly $573million in settlements and medical and legal expenses. That figure does not include 2003 payouts, such as those by the archdioceses of Louisville ($25.7million) or Boston ($85million).

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, accepted the report yesterday with the statement that it "adds to a tragic story" of leaders "who broke faith with their people." He also announced that 700 priests nationwide have been removed from ministry since January 2002, when the current crisis erupted.

Abusers protected

Because no other religious denomination or profession has done comparable research, the John Jay researchers said there is no way to tell if priests abused more than others.

But the church culture of the time enabled abusers to enter the priesthood and stay even after bishops learned of their offenses, according to the National Review Board.

Bishops "placed the interests of the accused priests above those of the victims and too often declined to hear from victims directly," the board said.

These factors "ended up creating a subculture that resulted in this kind of tragedy," said Jane Chiles of Lexington, Ky., a member of the lay board, in an interview.

The board listed several recommendations for changing that culture, including that bishops improve the screening and preparation of priests, respond more sensitively to victims, hold each other accountable for lapses and work better with both lay Catholics and law enforcement.

But the board stopped short of recommending sanctions against bishops like Louisville Archbishop Thomas Kelly who assigned some priests to ministries after knowing of their abusive conduct.

"If the evidence were presented that a particular bishop or cardinal knowingly allowed a predator do their mischief, that person should ... have action taken against them," said board member Robert Bennett at a Washington news conference.

He declined to elaborate, but both he and Chiles said bishops need to correct each other, and lay people need to hold their bishops more accountable.

"We're convinced if a bishop needs to resign, that he needs to feel the pressure of the people in his flock and fraternal correction," Chiles said.

She said bishops told the group in private interviews that they were upset over some of their colleagues' handling of the crisis.

Kelly has apologized for his handling of sexual abuse cases but said he would remain in office to help resolve the crisis. The Louisville archdiocese was one of the hardest-hit in the nation, paying a $25.7million settlement last year to 243 victims. The archdiocese reported Thursday that 40 of its priests have been accused since 1950.

"Archbishop Kelly has acknowledged a number of times over the past two years things that he and more broadly the church should have and could have done better," said Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese.

Reynolds said Kelly was unavailable for comment yesterday because he had several appointments and had not yet read the hundreds of pages of reports.

But Reynolds said the archbishop "remains strong in his conviction that he will lead us as we address this problem of clergy sexual abuse locally, and there's certainly plenty of evidence that is already under way." Reynolds cited, for example, the archdiocese's new lay review board and abuse-prevention programs for employees.

Sue Archibald, president of the Louisville-based victims' advocacy group The Linkup, said yesterday that there is little that people can do if Kelly chooses not to resign, as the group has called for in the past.

"Let's make the best of tomorrow," she said at a news conference yesterday with about five Linkup members outside the archdiocese's headquarters on East College Street.

She called on the archdiocese to take further steps such as releasing the names of all its accused priests, not just those already named in lawsuits. The archdiocese has said it would not release all the names because some charges have not been substantiated.

Archibald said the two national reports released yesterday had good points but did not go far enough.

"Can we trust the bishops to self-report?" she added. "What about abuse by nuns? Are all the religious order priests accounted for? Were cases referred to the police? Why isn't abuse of adults included? Why aren't the names of the accused being made public?"

The lay board's report cited some bishops' concerns about a "gay subculture" in the priesthood.

But Bennett said during a press conference that many priests with same-sex orientations have lived chaste lives.

And Archibald said such concerns miss the point that an "abuse of power" was involved.

"Female child victims saw their pain minimized" by a focus on male victims, she said in a statement.

Extensive research

The National Review Board and its staff based its report on the John Jay statistics as well as interviews with more than 85 witnesses, including bishops, Vatican officials, victims, experts and Catholic thinkers. They also studied books, court documents and other records.

The $500,000 John Jay study was based on numbers provided by dioceses, some of which resisted at first out of fears of violating confidentiality laws. Ninety-eight percent of dioceses ultimately responded, and the researchers processed data such that no individual or diocese is identifiable in the numbers.

Bishops commissioned both studies in June 2002 in Dallas, when they voted to bar all abusers from ministry.

The Louisville chapter of the reformist group Voice of the Faithful gave mixed reviews to the reports in a statement yesterday. Vince Grenough, representing the group, said the data has "limited value in that it is based on self-reporting by the very people who orchestrated the cover-up of rampant clergy sex abuse of minors for the past half century."

Grenough applauded Kelly for "expressing personal regret for his failings and sorrow for those who suffer because of his actions and those of the priests he is responsible for."

The Rev. Bill Medley, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Bardstown, said yesterday that he found the national statistics staggering but not surprising.

With most accused priests ordained nationally in the 1960s and 1970s, Medley said he was hopeful that the worst is past. "We have not had a single priest ordained since 1980" to be accused, said Medley, a member of the Priests' Council of the archdiocese. "I hope that means the lesson's been learned" and that the church has fixed "a corrupt system."

But he acknowledged that many victims take years to come forward.

"It's my hope if there are others who need to publicly talk about this, that they will come forward, especially if there are priests who have yet to be identified who may be a danger to children," he said.

Screening criticized

Much of the National Review Board's criticism on the handling of the crisis focused on the screening and preparation of priests. Seminaries "lost their way" in the 1970s, Bennett said.

"Many dysfunctional and psychosexually immature men were admitted into seminaries" and the ordination track, Bennett said, citing one veteran bishop who voiced the attitude of the times: "Who were we to call into question a calling from God?"

Chiles acknowledged seminaries have made improvements, but said more study is needed on whether it's enough.

Both dioceses and seminaries subject candidates to a battery of psychological tests, interviews and background checks, said the Rev. Justin DuVall, vice rector and provost of St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana. Many priests from Kentucky and Southern Indiana have trained there.

DuVall said he has not read the reports yet, but said he wasn't surprised by the criticism of the old seminary system. He said his seminary had begun psychologically screening candidates by the time he was a student in the mid-1970s and added other tests later.

"Gradually, I think most dioceses came to see the value of that, and for issues that went beyond issues of celibacy and sexual maturity," he said. "They wanted to make sure they had men of sound character in lots of different areas and weren't dealing with psychological problems that would show up in a variety of ways."

 
 

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