Archbishop Is 'Troubled' By Sex-Abuse Surveys
Mansell Expresses Concerns about Independence Of Sexual-Abuse Reviews
By Frances Grandy Taylor
Hartford Courant [Hartford, CT]
May 13, 2004
In a February letter to the president of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell said he was "troubled" that two national review boards examining allegations of priest sexual abuse were overstepping their authority and acting too independently.
Mansell's letter was among a group of letters made public this week from archbishops and bishops across the country, written shortly before a survey commissioned by the church's Office of Child and Youth Protection was issued.
The National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly newspaper, posted the letters Tuesday on its website.
Victims' groups said Wednesday they were outraged that the bishops seemed to be backing away from the needed reform process.
"The board should be independent. We've always said that the bishops should not be able to police themselves," said Landa Mauriello-Vernon, president of the Connecticut chapter of Survivors of Those Abused by Priests. "The archbishop seems concerned that the two entities are behaving independently and not under the bishops' control."
In Mansell's letter, dated Feb. 12, he complained that the National Review Board and the Office of Child and Youth Protection appeared to be "expanding their competence, responsibilities, activities, and studies in a dynamic of autonomy."
Mansell said he was disturbed by the "intervention of the Office in cases in various dioceses, and this being carried forward without communication with the local Diocesan Bishop." He added that the board was not limiting itself to child abuse cases but also cases "involving priests and adults."
Other letters sent to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the bishops conference, similarly complained that the board was acting too autonomously in its effort to address priest sexual abuse allegations. Several of the letters, including Mansell's, were sent two weeks before the John Jay Survey commissioned by the Office of Child and Youth Protection was issued Feb. 27.
The John Jay Survey found that 4,392 priests had been accused of molesting 10,667 children since 1950. About 10 percent of the 195 dioceses were found to be not in compliance with the church's charter to protect youth.
The Rev. John Gatzak, spokesman for the Hartford Archdiocese, said Wednesday he was not aware of Mansell's letter and did not call back after being provided with a copy. Mansell was not available for comment.
In another letter to Gregory, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York urged that the bishops conference delay discussing this year's compliance audit until November. The delay effectively would stop the process for this year. Egan was criticized in the first audit for failing to remove priests accused of sexual molestation while he was bishop of Bridgeport.
Bill Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Wednesday that the bishops will include the issue on their agenda for their June meeting in Denver. He said they will discuss "whether there will be an audit and how it will be done" - whether audits should be done every year or every few years, and whether they should be done in every diocese or in those dioceses not in compliance with the church's guidelines for handling abuse allegations.
Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, said Wednesday that she was required by the bishops' charter to do an annual compliance review and that she was continuing to work on this year's audit, in an effort to remain on schedule.
National Catholic Reporter also posted correspondence to and from Anne M. Burke, an Illinois appellate court judge who is interim chair of the 13-member National Review Board. In a letter to Gregory, Burke wrote on March 29 that some U.S. bishops were attempting to "go back to business as usual" and risked backsliding.
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