More Study of Catholic Crisis Urged
Burke Also Calls for Yearly Audits

By James Janega
Chicago Tribune [Chicago IL]
March 4, 2004

Less than a week after the U.S. Catholic Church released two milestone reports on the sexual-abuse crisis within its ranks, the head of a national panel of Catholic laypeople said Wednesday that a larger study should be launched to further explore the causes of the crisis.

The study could take years and would likely involve interviewing hundreds of the priests accused of abusing children, as well as some of their victims.

Illinois Appellate Court Judge Anne Burke, interim chair of the National Review Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told lunchtime guests of the City Club of Chicago that dioceses need annual audits to ensure their recent progress in handling abuse cases does not backslide.

"These issues must be studied further," Burke said. The review board will seek researchers to perform "an epidemiological study" of the crisis "in coming weeks," she said.

Paul McHugh, another review board member and a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins University, said the study ideally would involve interviewing 300 or more priests accused of sexually abusing children and three times as many priests who were not.

In addition, it would seek to interview up to 500 victims of abuse and compare their responses with more than 1,500 other respondents, McHugh said. Issues of confidentiality and funding would be paramount in securing cooperation.

"It would be a four- or five-year project," he said.

Both the study of the abuse-crisis causes and discussion of possible annual audits would be taken up at the National Review Board's next meeting on March 15, Burke and McHugh said.

With the larger study, the board plans to consider the possibility of receiving partial funding from government sources. A central hope for the study is that it would shed light on sexual abuse of minors in society at large, McHugh said.

Last Friday, two long-awaited studies of the abuse crisis in the church were released, one that quantified the problem and another that tried to explain its possible causes.

Dozens of interviews by review board members led to suggestions that the church failed to screen candidates effectively for the ministry and was "shameful" in handling abuse allegations. It did not definitively identify the causes of the outbreak of abuse that occurred in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

"The bishops failed in their oversight, but a failure of oversight doesn't explain why these men didn't run off with frolicsome women, or why they didn't take money from the collection plate," McHugh said. "Why did they run off and abuse these boys?"

A separate study released Friday identified 10,667 people who reported they had been abused as minors by a total of 4,392 priests and deacons between 1950 and 2002. That figure represents 4 percent of the 109,694 priests in ministry at some point during those years.

The review board that commissioned the studies was born out of a meeting of U.S. bishops in Dallas in 2002, where a charter to address the sexual-abuse crisis was also created.

The annual meeting of bishops next November in Washington, D.C., will be the first opportunity they will have to consider renewing that charter, said bishops conference spokesman David Early.

It was unclear what action the bishops would take on annual diocesan audits or a comprehensive study of the causes of the abuse crisis, but each was called for in some form in the Dallas charter, Early said.

Still, other review board members said it was far from certain that meaningful and complete studies would be accomplished.

"The bishops have to agree to it. This thing is not going to work unless the bishops are behind it," said review board member Robert Bennett, a former attorney for President Bill Clinton who undertook the review board's preliminary look at causes of the abuse crisis.

"I hope it will be done, but the bishops have to be behind it, and we have to get funding," he said.


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