Judge: Church's Response to Report Disappointing

By Steve Arney
Pantagraph [Bloomington IL]
Downloaded April 25, 2004

BLOOMINGTON -- Bishops were sharing "a moment of panic" when they formed a commission to investigate sexual abuse, said Anne Burke, an Illinois appellate judge who chairs the commission.

The panic has waned, and some bishops who jealously guard their autonomy want the scandal to fade and ideas about accountability, oversight and power-sharing to go away, said Burke.

The judge was keynote speaker at a conference for abuse survivors Friday in Bloomington. To loud applause, she declared to those bishops who want unquestioned authority, "I have news for them: It's not their church. It's our church."

She didn't name individual bishops opposing the commission, called the National Review Board for the Protection of Young People.

She said they have given her the irreverent nickname "Mother Superior."

Bishop Daniel Jenky declined to attend Friday's conference or to send a representative.

The commission wants two more reports generated. It wants another audit on how dioceses follow procedures and it wants a scientific study on causes that would cost $2 million or $3 million. Burke said bishops are resisting the request and have tabled proposals until November, when terms have expired for her and national figures Leon Pinetta and Robert Bennett.

The commission produced an audit to see if dioceses followed 2002 mandates on handling sexual abuse. It also produced reports on the number of abuse cases in the United States and on the causes of the scandals.

The causes, she said, are twofold:

4 percent of priests from 1950 to 2002 were formally accused of sexual abuse.

The bishops and archbishops in many instances handled cases poorly. Those in power -- half of the equation that made the scandal possible -- remain in power, Burke said.

After her talk, Burke said a core problem is that the church hierarchy treats victims like adversaries. Bishops, archbishops and cardinals must drop their concerns about civil court liabilities and treat victims with the concern that a higher law demands, Burke said.

Part of the solution, she said, is empowerment of laity through groups like Voice of the Faithful, which sponsored the conference.

John Ryan, VOF organizer for the Peoria Diocese, is to meet with Jenky for the first time in June -- 16 months after Ryan notified the bishop of the chapter's creation.


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