More Power for Catholic Faithful Asked of Church

By Amy Oakes
Union-Tribune [San Diego CA]
March 7, 2004

A local victims' rights group and church activists are calling on the Roman Catholic Church to give its congregants more power.

Janet Mansfield, a Catholic activist, would like to see parish councils with the authority to work with priests on troubling issues, including sexual abuse, that face the church. She said it would be the most effective way to handle matters in a fair manner.

"Much like a union in negotiations, you sit down and work out the problems," said Mansfield, who heads the local chapter of the national church reform group Call to Action.

Mansfield spoke yesterday at a news conference that concluded a daylong forum in Pacific Beach for clergy sex-abuse victims and their supporters. The forum was in response to a nationwide survey of clergy abuse in the Roman Catholic Church released late last month.

The study found that about 4 percent of the nation's priests had been accused of molestation over a 52-year period. From 1950 to 2002, 10,667 children were allegedly victimized by 4,392 priests, according to the study.

The study, which relied on self-reporting by U.S. bishops, acknowledged that the totals are probably conservative.

A report by the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego showed that 2 percent to 3 percent of its priests have been accused of sexually abusing minors since 1950. In the last decade, the diocese has paid out millions in settlements.

Mansfield said yesterday's forum, which featured Richard Sipe, an author and expert on celibacy, was aimed at helping people understand the problems in the church and calling other dioceses to action. She said it's important for others in the Catholic Church to become educated and hold the church accountable for reforms.

About 50 people attended the forum, held at Christ Lutheran Church, including 10 survivors of abuse. She said some were in tears as survivors shared vivid stories of their abuse and the denial afterward.

"It was people hearing what actually happened to the survivors," Mansfield said. "It was a very moving day."

Mary Hochleutner, a social worker, said she was surprised to learn the similarities between the church and a family in which molestation has occurred.

"It's the secrecy and closed-door policy where everything is handled within," she said.

Jaime Romo, a spokesman for the local chapter of the victims' rights group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the forum gave victims the chance to meet others and hear their stories. He said some had driven from Los Angeles to attend.

"They understood how urgent it was to put a face to the numbers," Romo said.


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