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  Priests Seek Probe of Bishops
Former Peorian Among Group Urging Closer Look at Church Leaders Accused of Covering up Sex Abuse

By Michael Miller collinspw@yahoo.com
The Journal Star
June 6, 2004

The focus of the sexual-abuse problem for the past several years has been on priests who molested young people.

Now U.S. Catholic bishops are being urged to take a closer look at themselves and any complicity they may have had in the problem.

A group of Catholic priests, including one from the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, released a statement last week calling for the investigation of bishops accused of covering up sexual abuse by priests and for the resignations of any who are deemed guilty.

Project Millstones has been signed by about 400 Catholics from across the country, according to its authors. It was mailed to Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a few weeks ago, and to all U.S. bishops on Tuesday.

Gregory hasn't responded, the authors said. Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria was unavailable for comment.

The statement calls for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to "investigate claims against bishops who were complicit in the abuse scandal, at least after 1985 when it became clear that priest predators should not be in active ministry." The document points out that while most accused priests

have had to leave ministry, "a large majority" of bishops who were "clearly complicit in these behaviors ... still remain in office."

The priests also call for "an objective, professional and non-church affiliated entity" to investigate allegations against priests.

The name of the statement refers to Matthew 18:5-6, where Jesus says, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better to him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."

Creating the document were the Rev. Patrick Collins, a priest of the Peoria diocese and Wyoming, Ill., native who now lives in Douglas, Mich.; the Rev. Robert Hoatson of the Archdiocese of Newark, where Archbishop John J. Myers presides; the Rev. Kenneth Lasch of Mendham, N.J.; and the Rev. Thomas Doyle of North Carolina.

The statement urges the bishops, who will have their spring meeting this month in Denver, to allow the National Review Board to investigate bishops accused of covering up priests' crimes by such methods as moving them around rather than removing them from public ministry or calling police. The review board would then recommend whether a bishop should be removed, the statement says.

The review board was created by the bishops in 2002 to make recommendations on handling the sex-abuse crisis. At a February 2004 news conference announcing the results of an audit and a review board report, however, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops head Gregory, bishop of the Diocese of Belleville, declared the problem to be "history."

"It seemed like the bishops were moving in the direction of 'Everything was over,' " Hoatson said. "We need to ask the bishops to hold each other accountable for the mistakes that have been made."

Not doing so would further injure bishops' credibility, the statement says.

The statement also:

- Urges people with such accusations against bishops to report them to the review board.

- Urges all victims of sexual abuse by clergy members to report their abuse.

- Seeks a "further clarification on the exact meaning of sexual abuse."

Hoatson said he thinks it should be expanded. "Anybody who uses his or her power to in any way touch the body, mind and soul of a child or a vulnerable adult is an abuser," he said.

Lasch said there needs to be greater clarity to allow local review boards to determine the credibility of allegations more easily. He also called for "universal regulations" for local review boards.

- Calls for a "deep dialogue" among U.S. Catholic leaders and members of the church "regarding the best way to share leadership in our Church."

In its introduction, the priests also admit the silence of "many of us Catholics" who failed to take earlier action and allowed the problem to develop.

The notion that bishops need to take greater responsibility is widely shared, Collins said.

"Everybody I talk to, even those who didn't necessarily agree with our project, say the bishops have to 'fess up to their complicity of this and not just say, 'We're sorry,' " he said. "If it's been a serious complicity, they have to do something like step down or they won't have their credibility."

Lasch said he got involved with Project Millstones because of "an overall sense that the bishops over the past 20 years have been guilty of neglect, gross negligence, in reassigning priests who are guilty of criminal sexual misconduct."

He cited former Boston Archbishop Bernard Law as a prime example. Law stepped down after it was revealed the archdiocese had routinely covered up information about abuse of hundreds of children by priests and archdiocesan workers.

A Dallas Morning News study in 2002 found that as many as two-thirds of U.S. bishops may have covered up for accused priests. Myers was one of them, being accused of moving around the Rev. John Anderson after initial allegations of abuse had been made. Myers has denied covering up the allegations. Anderson was removed from public ministry by Jenky in 2002.

The Project Millstones statement comes at a time when some bishops also are under fire for trying to curtail the review board's assignment, including annual audits of dioceses to make sure they're dealing with the abuse problems along certain guidelines.

"Unless we deal with this issue, we will never, ever begin to heal as a church," Hoatson said. "Many people just want it to go away, and it's not going to go away."

Anyone wanting a full copy of the statement should contact Collins at collinspw@yahoo.com.

 
 

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