Bishops Gird for 'Retreat'
Two Controversies Likely to Dominate Englewood Meeting

By Jean Torkelson
Rocky Mountain News [Colorado]
May 14, 2004

It may be the most misnamed "spiritual retreat" in history.

A traditionally low-key bishops' gathering at the Inverness Hotel in Englewood June 14-19 is likely to become a national battleground for two issues besetting the Catholic Church.

Neither controversy appeared on the original agenda, which was dedicated to reflection and collegial discussion. But now the "Catholic politician" issue, and a new blowup over the church's 2-year-old sex abuse scandal, are likely to dominate the proceedings:

* As host, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput will invite the bishops to discuss what to do about giving communion to Catholic politicians - many now on the campaign trail - who disregard the church's teaching against abortion.

"It seems like an opportune time (to discuss). It's been on people's minds," said Chaput's communication director, Sergio Gutierrez.

* A watchdog organization wants the bishops to commit in June to another stage of sex abuse reforms, without waiting for the bishops to conduct their November business meeting. Those reforms are part of a child-protection charter adopted by the bishops in 2002.

"They will only do what they were mandated to do - our concern has been there's so much more they can do," said Barbara Blaine, founder of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called SNAP. "We constantly ask them to stretch themselves."

SNAP expects 250 to 300 people at its own annual meeting at the Hyatt Hotel in Denver from June 11-13. The organization will then stay to watch what happens at the bishops' retreat.

Gutierrez called into question SNAP's credibility as a watchdog.

"There's no question that the bishops are demonstrating that they're committing to the charter," Gutierrez said Thursday. "But that doesn't satisfy SNAP. They ignore the facts."

Gutierrez said the charter is being implemented in a timely fashion in "hundreds of dioceses," including Denver. He said that included employee interviews, background checks, as well as "safe environment" training programs that have been attended by literally thousands of archdiocesan volunteers and parishioners.

"No other organization in the country has done as extensive a self-evaluation and made as large a commitment to training and (prevention) as the bishops have done," Gutierrez said.

However, a deep freeze has developed between the bishops and the National Review Board it authorized to oversee the reforms.

Private correspondence, released this week by a national Catholic newspaper, show some bishops object to the way the reforms are being carried out. That provoked a sharp protest from the board's interim head, Illinois Appeals Court Justice Anne Burke.

The ill will sets the stage for the question the bishops will discuss their first day: whether to extend the abuse audits past the original one released earlier this year. The audits measure compliance with sex-abuse reforms in each diocese.

Burke and SNAP consider yearly audits essential. Bishops complain yearly audits are bureaucratic, costly and - the main point of contention - never agreed to in the first place.

As for the Catholic politician issue, so far each bishop has been deciding independently how far to push the ban against Catholic abortion supporters receiving the sacrament of communion.

The Vatican has made it clear the ban must hold. But how that's implemented has been assigned to a bishops' task force, which won't release any findings until after the 2004 election.

Meanwhile, a handful of bishops, including Chaput, have publicly called on Catholics to renounce pro-choice policies.


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