Action Urged against Church
Experts Say Catholics Should Hold Elections, Withhold Funding to Stop Widespread Sexual Abuse Scandal

By Rachel Konrad
Associated Press, carried in Oakland Tribune [Santa Clara CA]
Downloaded May 15, 2004

SANTA CLARA -- Roman Catholics should stop donating money to parishes and begin demanding elections of their bishops and even the pope, outspoken priests and psychologists urged Friday in a conference about the church's sexual abuse scandals.

"The only solution I can see is for the faithful to remove the current church hierarchy from power," said John Gonsiorek, psychologist at the Minnesota School of Professional Psychology and editor of "The Breach of Trust," a book about sexual exploitation.

"The faithful need to take decisive action -- otherwise, they're complicit," Gonsiorek said, pausing for rounds of applause and cheers from some of the 200 people who attended a daylong conference at Santa Clara University. "At a minimum, there needs to be direct election of bishops by the laity. ... Do not fund the church until it shapes up."

About two dozen experts -- theologians, psychologists, abuse victims and ministers -- convened inside the Jesuit university's Spanish-style, 18th century mission for a morning prayer, followed by panel discussions aimed at restoring the faith of Catholics worldwide.

A study earlier this year by John Jay College of Criminal Justice confirmed that 4,392 priests in the United States abused 10,667 people, mostly young boys, between 1950 and 2002. The total number of victims is probably at least six times greater, the report estimated.

Keynote speaker Leon Panetta, former chief of staff to President Clinton, said bishops have surrounded themselves with attorneys and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate victims, but they "forgot that they are involved in issues of faith and morality." He said follow-up investigations could uncover problems ranging from embezzlement to sexual harassment of women parishioners.

"This is for all intents and purposes a feudal system, and these are fiefdoms that bishops operate pretty much on their own," said Panetta, now on the U.S. Conference of Bishops Committee on Child Sexual Abuse. "They don't want to be accountable to anyone but the pope, and what he doesn't know is just as well."

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer, said elections, not papal appointments, would force church leaders to be more accountable to congregations around the world. He urged bishops to personally apologize to victims and relatives, instead of hiding behind nearly $500 million in payoffs and engaging in "ecclesiastical double-talk" that obfuscates the magnitude of the problem.

The John Jay report found that 4 percent of U.S. priests have had allegations of sexual abuse made against them. The report found even greater incidence of substance abuse, with 19 percent of perpetrators admitting that they had drug or alcohol problems. About 9 percent of perpetrators said they were not sober during the time of abuse.

The Rev. Thomas Rausch, priest and theology professor at Loyola Marymount University, said major changes in how church leaders, including the pope, ascend the hierarchy could happen within a generation.

"I think there's room for considerable change," Rausch said. "There are ways in which you can get input from the bottom ... where the laity and clergy and bishops are solicited for suggestions and for an analysis of what kind of bishop is needed when a position becomes vacant. The way it's being done now is ... a bad system because it allows almost no impact from local churches or even from the hierarchies in the United States."

Nannette deFuentes, a victim of clergy abuse, said would-be seminarians should undergo rigorous psychiatric exams and counseling to prepare them for the celibate and often lonely priesthood. Now a psychologist in Glendale and member of review boards for seminaries, deFuentes was hopeful the scandals would usher broad reform -- including investigations into sex abuse by clergy in Latin America and Africa, and an elevation in the subordinate role of women in the church.

"If women took more power, there'd be a lot of changes," deFuentes said.


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