Bishops Discuss Need for Reform Audits:
Some Back Annual Reviews of Sex-Abuse Protections While Others, Including Denver’s Archbishop, Call Them Unnecessary

By Eric Gorski
Denver Post [Denver]
June 15, 2004

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops began a closed- door retreat outside Denver on Monday with a crucial discussion about how to make sure U.S. dioceses are meeting reforms adopted two years ago in response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

The question of whether to stage a second annual review of 195 dioceses has revealed fissures between some bishops reluctant for a second study and a board of prominent lay Catholics appointed to hold bishops accountable.

Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spokesman, would say only that "a lot of matters came up" Monday but that no action was taken.

Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI investigator and executive director of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, said Monday that her staff is moving ahead with a second round of reviews.

"As far as I'm concerned, nothing has changed yet," McChesney said after appearing before the bishops for a portion of the discussion. "We were told to proceed for preparing something for this year."

The U.S. bishops' six-day session, long planned as a private prayer retreat, also will cover the thorny question of holding Catholic politicians accountable for public stands that run contrary to church teaching.

The meeting is taking place under tight security at the Inverness Hotel and Conference Center in Arapahoe County.

On Monday, talk centered on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by U.S. bishops in Dallas in 2002. The document requires that a priest guilty of one offense be removed from the ministry; it calls for sex- abuse prevention training, criminal background checks and lay involvement in local review boards.

A first review of U.S. dioceses last year found 90 percent were meeting the reforms, including all three in Colorado. Teams of auditors, many of them former FBI agents, visited each diocese for the review.

The 13-member National Review Board, the watchdog panel of lay Catholics, called for a second review this year. Some bishops, including New York Cardinal Edward Egan, asked to delay the decision until November.

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput suggested in a private letter made public by a Catholic newspaper that annual reviews in every diocese are too costly and unnecessary.

McChesney has said an audit of every diocese every year may not be needed. The Dallas reforms call for an annual review of how dioceses are doing, but it does not say exactly how to accomplish that.

"You need some sort of mechanism," McChesney said. "Whatever you call it isn't as important as what it gets to."

Robert Bennett, a former federal prosecutor on the lay review board, said in a phone interview Monday that a second annual audit is appropriate.

"I think the bishops are so new at this, and the audits were so valuable the first year, I think it's a little early to start changing things," he said.

Bennett also said the role of the lay board should not be lessened, although one U.S. bishop returning from a recent Vatican visit has said "reformulating" the panel is an option.

"I do not have concerns about the bishops' overall commitment," Bennett said. "I do have concern about some influential bishops not having that commitment. I'm hopeful they will not prevail and cause the bishops as a whole to retrench or step back from what has occurred."

In a magazine article this week, Cardinal Avery Dulles, a prominent U.S. theologian, wrote that the priest discipline policy ignores priests' due-process rights and should be changed.

Leon Panetta, a review board member and former chief of staff to President Clinton, said Monday that a second review of dioceses is needed in part to restore trust.

"This is the moment that surely bishops understand the depth of the scandal and its impact on the church," Panetta said. "They just cannot afford to retreat from the commitment to deal with this issue."

Boston-based lay Catholic group Voice of the Faithful held a news conference Monday in Denver calling for bishops not to backpedal but instead open their eyes to "the mountaintops of accountability."

Staff writer Eric Gorski can be reached at 303-820-1698 or .


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