Catholic Group, Bishops Agree on Sex Abuse Audit Proposal

By Cathleen Falsani
Chicago Sun-Times [Chicago IL]
May 18, 2004

A watchdog panel of prominent lay Roman Catholics and a group of U.S. bishops meeting at a Rosemont hotel reached common ground Monday about how ongoing efforts to enforce new church laws governing clergy sex abuse cases should proceed.

Despite recent public tensions between the lay National Review Board and several influential bishops, a contingent of 14 bishops on the Ad Hoc Committee for Sexual Abuse, and 10 of the 12 review board members, said they agreed on a proposal to present to the entire U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at its meeting in Denver next month.

At issue had been the review board's desire to continue audits of all the American dioceses to make sure new laws, which say in part that a priest with even one credible allegation of sex abuse against a minor should be removed permanently from ministry, are properly implemented.

In letters to Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, president of the USCCB, made public earlier this month, several bishops including Cardinal Edward Egan of New York and Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, strongly opposed a second round of audits, saying the review board was overstepping its authority. A heated exchange of letters between the cardinals, Illinois Appellate Justice Anne Burke, who heads the National Review Board, and Gregory revealed the extent of acrimony between the lay board and some church leaders.

The Review Board wants the U.S. bishops to approve a new round of audits at their semi-annual meeting in Denver next month. The results of a first round of audits were published earlier this year.

"We've agreed on everything," Burke said, declining to specify what the proposal agreed upon Monday entailed. "You can conclude from that that the National Review Board is happy today."

If the bishops vote to allow a new round of audits, which review board members believe is required by the new church laws, Burke said the audits could be completed by the end of the year.

Burke and three other members of the National Review Board -- Robert Bennett, Leon Panetta and William Burleigh -- all plan to step down from their board positions June 30, after serving for two years, but have agreed to remain on the board until their replacements can be found, Burke and Burleigh said.

Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul, Minn., head of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, said his committee will present a list of potential candidates to fill the four vacant positions on the review board at the bishops' June meeting.

The U.S. bishops have extended their June meeting, a prayer retreat where formal church business is not usually addressed, by one day to discuss the proposal, a spokeswoman for the bishops said.


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