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  Archdiocese Sex-Abuse Report Done

By Janet I. Tu jtu@seattletimes.com
Seattle Times [Seattle]
June 14, 2004

The Seattle Roman Catholic Archdiocese's case-review board, which recommends to the archbishop what should be done with priests accused of sexual abuse, has completed work on all 13 cases it was asked to review.

The board finished the work several days ago and has given its report to the archbishop, said Terrence Carroll, a retired King County Superior Court judge who heads the review board.

But the archdiocese isn't releasing the report, or the archbishop's decisions on the cases, until it develops a uniform procedure on how to release such information.

The report comes amid questions about whether the nation's bishops intend to live up to the "zero-tolerance" policy they passed in Dallas two years ago. That policy says priests with a single credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor cannot remain in the ministry.

Last month, Cardinal Avery Dulles, the nation's pre-eminent Catholic theologian, called in a speech for reconsideration of the Dallas policy, describing it as an "extreme response" to the sex-abuse scandal, according to The Washington Post.

And in the past few months, some bishops have proposed delaying approval of a second round of audits to be conducted by the National Review Board, a group of prominent lay Catholics appointed by the bishops who are monitoring the dioceses' compliance with the Dallas policy.

Last year's first round of audits revealed that nationally, 4,392 priests had been accused of molesting more than 10,000 minors since 1950. Locally, the Seattle Archdiocese's audit figures revealed that 153 allegations have been made against 49 priests since 1950.

Yesterday, the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic lay group formed in response to the sex-abuse scandal, held a prayer vigil outside St. James Cathedral to urge the nation's bishops to cooperate with future audits and to pray for the bishops gathering in Denver starting today for a weeklong, closed-door spiritual retreat.

The few business items on the bishops' agenda include issues closely watched by the public: the audits and, separately, whether bishops should deny Communion to politicians with pro-choice positions on abortion.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has called for the bishops to make their meeting open to the public.

Seattle Archbishop Alexander Brunett supports going forward with a second round of audits, said Greg Magnoni, Seattle Archdiocese spokesman.

But questions have arisen about how much the archdiocese is willing to disclose about priests who have been accused in the past, when they were accused, and how the archdiocese responded.

Jim Biteman, a local SNAP leader, believes the diocese has become more open but "it has not been as voluntary as it should have been. The archdiocese is still reacting to pressure from external sources SNAP and the people in the pews rather than taking the lead to be truthful and disclosing more information on past perpetrators."

Magnoni says the archdiocese has been forthcoming. "We may not have provided information at that moment when some people believed we should've provided it," he said. "But in every case when it was important to provide it for public trust and when innocent people were to be protected, we've provided information."

Dioceses across the country have varied widely in information disclosure since the Dallas policy passed.

The Spokane Diocese months ago released the names of priests that it said fell under the restrictions set out in the Dallas policy..

The Seattle Archdiocese has not released such information because "this archbishop is taking extra care to ensure due process for everyone involved," Magnoni said. "Providing due process to victims and the accused is probably the most important thing for the archbishop."

Now that the review board's final report on all 13 priests is in, Magnoni said, archdiocese officials are beginning to discuss how the findings will be disclosed.

In each of the 13 cases, the review board makes a recommendation to the archbishop. The archbishop then makes his decision on what to do with the priest, and forwards that decision to the Vatican for approval.

Archdiocese officials are inclined, Magnoni said, to receive word from Rome on each of those cases before they release information to the public.

Brunett has publicly stated his decision on the archdiocese's most notorious offender, the Rev. James McGreal, whose case was one of the 13 reviewed.

The archbishop decided not to defrock McGreal, who is currently retired, restricted from active ministry and living in a supervised church facility in Missouri, in order to keep him in supervised confinement, Magnoni said. McGreal has been the subject of dozens of allegations and numerous lawsuits that resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements.

"Father McGreal's case was so highly publicized and in his case the offenses so egregious that the level of offense necessitated an explanation not only to the general public but to those who would question why the archdiocese would retain authority for him," Magnoni said.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

 
 

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