U.S. Victims of Priest Sexual Abuse Fear Waffling
By Judith Crosson
June 15, 2004
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (Reuters) - A group representing victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests pleaded with U.S. Catholic bishops on Tuesday not to water down strict rules they set two years ago to weed out bad clergymen.
The group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, delivered a letter to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who are meeting in the Denver-area suburb of Englewood this week in a closed session.
Two years ago in Dallas the bishops announced reforms to deal with the sexual abuse scandal that has cost the American Catholic church millions of dollars in payments to victims and angered Catholics who had held priests in high esteem. The rules were tough, saying one sexual offense was enough to remove a priest.
The bishops also set up an audit process to measure if each diocese is carrying out the reforms.
However, the victims' group is worried that some bishops want to change the rules and maybe not continue the audit.
"They're saying one priest only abused a 17-year-old girl or a priest with over 700 images on his computer of child porn is not guilty of child abuse," Barbara Blaine, president of the victims' group said outside the hotel where the 200-plus bishops were meeting.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the bishops, accepted the letter on behalf of the bishops.
Blaine told the nun the group wants to know if the bishops will support stronger sex abuse audits and open their discussions on the scandal.
"I think you will be pleased to know where they stand," Walsh said, without elaborating.
MEETING WITH VICTIMS?
Blaine and Peter Isely, another victim of clergy sexual abuse, told the nun that the bishops have not met with them for two years. Walsh countered that the bishops have been meeting individually with victims. "Who would think that after Dallas we would have to stand out here like this with the police guarding the hotel?" Isely asked.
Earlier this year, Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said about 700 priests and deacons have been removed from ministry since January 2002.
Other Catholic groups have also camped outside the hotel where the bishops are meeting. Amy Sheber Howard, vice president of Call to Action National, a liberal group, said she would like to see the bishops speak out against the death penalty as strongly as they do against abortion.
The bishops have gotten themselves tangled in a controversy over whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should be refused communion. The question is particularly acute because a Catholic, Sen. John Kerry, who is expected to be the Democratic nominee for president, has said he personally opposes abortion, but supports a woman's right to obtain one.
Last month, a Colorado bishop took one of the strongest stands by a Catholic church leader when he said communion should be denied to people who vote for candidates supporting such issues as abortion rights, gay marriage, euthanasia and stem cell research.
Other bishops have said the best way is to try to persuade people through education.
On Sunday, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who is also secretary of the bishops' group, said in his homily that the faithful should examine their own conscience. "Rather than questioning other people about their worthiness ... we should ask ourselves if we are ready to receive the body and blood of Christ."
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