George to Oversee Priest Abuse Policy
Cardinal Will Lead Nationwide Effort to Refine Rules
By Manya A. Brachear
Chicago Tribune [Washington DC]
November 17, 2004
Cardinal Francis George, vice president-elect of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will shepherd the American Catholic Church through the next chapter of the sexual abuse crisis.
Next month, George, archbishop of Chicago, will lead a delegation of bishops to the Vatican to discuss changing church laws that hold bishops accountable to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, now up for review.
Under his watch, a new child safety officer will be appointed to head the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection. Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI agent and sex crimes detective, has announced she will leave the post when her contract ends in February.
And in June, George will host a summit of the nation's bishops in Chicago to finalize revisions to the charter, the church's policy on sex abuse originally drafted in Dallas in 2002.
George says it is unlikely that bishops will lift the zero-tolerance policy on priests who have molested children, but "they may tighten the definition of sexual abuse.
"We have to keep the promises of Dallas," George said. "They will be kept."
Those promises include reaching out to victims, ensuring the safety of children in Catholic institutions and enjoining clergy who have molested children from active public ministry, George said.
The bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sex Abuse recommended preserving such a ban last month.
It also suggested the creation of guidelines for the National Review Board, a lay watchdog group appointed by bishops to oversee their redresses, and called for another review of the charter in 2010, said Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, spokesman for the U.S. Conference.
But, he said, the committee did not amend the definition of sex abuse, which critics say is too broad.
Rev. Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests' Councils based in Chicago, said he would like to see revisions to the definition, which, he said, now encompasses "word, thought and deed."
Silva would also like to see changes to norms, portions of the charter that have become church law, including the initial treatment of accused priests.
Under canon law, the accused are presumed guilty and removed from ministry until proven innocent--a process that can sometimes take years, he said.
"Absolutes are not helpful in dealing with human beings," Silva said. "We have priests waiting for two years for resolution ... To keep a man in limbo for two years is to deny justice."
George acknowledged the speed of the investigation process. "It is slow," he said. "But that's because it's cautious."
Indeed, the hierarchy does not "work to the speed people would like," said McChesney. Conveying that to victims has been a challenge during the last two years, she said. It is one reason why victims often do not immediately come forward.
"There still remains some suspicion on the part of abusers that the church won't respond to them in the most pastoral way," she said.
George said victims' voices must be weighed with priests' rights and the church's need to heal. He will address that and other issues in December when he travels to Rome to discuss the norms, which must be approved by the Vatican.
Bishops have been asked to respond to the ad hoc committee's recommendations for the revised charter by mid-January. They will finalize the church's policy in Chicago in June.
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