Catholic Bishops Speak out on Iraq, OK Clergy Sex Abuse Study

By Ann Rodgers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
November 14, 2006

Baltimore -- The president of the U.S. Catholic bishops has urged the government to put aside partisan politics in order to achieve a "responsible transition in Iraq."

He did not hint at a timetable for withdrawal, but listed conditions -- such as curbing violence, strengthening the rule of law and progress on reconstruction -- that the United States, as well as Arab and Western European governments, should help the Iraqis to achieve.

"Our nation's military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as their presence contributes to a responsible transition. Our nation should look for effective ways to end their deployment at the earliest opportunity consistent with this goal," Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., said in the four-page statement.

He issued it with the support of about 300 bishops who are gathered in Baltimore for their annual meeting.

This is the 18th time that the bishops have spoken on the war, although many of their earlier statements were overshadowed by coverage of scandal involving clergy who sexually abused minors.

The bishops also addressed that topic yesterday, approving $335,000 to help finance a ground-breaking study on the social, psychological and administrative factors that led to the abuse and to a failure by many bishops to remove abusers from ministry.

The Iraq statement was not intended to dictate strategy, but to call for unity and urgency in addressing the war and its repercussions, said Bishop Thomas Wenski of West Palm Beach, Fla, chairman of the Committee on International Policy.

"We don't want to align ourselves with the extremes of this divisive debate ... between 'stay the course' and 'cut and run,' " he said.

The statement said that "the administration and the new Congress need to engage in a collaborative dialogue that honestly assesses the situation in Iraq, acknowledges past difficulties and miscalculations, recognizes and builds on positive advances (e.g. broad participation in elections), and reaches agreement on concrete steps to address the serious challenges that lie ahead."

At the suggestion of auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago, a civil and canon lawyer, the final version dropped an earlier call for congressional hearings.

"That is a rather specific request given the mechanics of government ... [and] the very delicate balance" between its legislative and executive branches, he said.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., who still carries out international diplomatic missions for the Vatican, viewed it as a vote for morality over politics.

"The basic point is to say to all parts of government that you really have to work together in this. We have to put an end to partisanship," he said. "It's a call to do something positive, and do it quickly."

Although the bishops were also engaged in cutting their own budget by more than $3 million per year, they unanimously voted to release $335,000 of $1 million they had previously allocated for a study on the causes and context of child sexual abuse by clergy. The researchers are social scientists from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Margaret Smith, one of the key researchers, emphasized that no other institution, religious or secular, had ever conducted such a thorough and detailed study of child sexual abuse within its ranks. She said because of that it would be difficult to get a comparison of the Catholic clergy situation relative to that of other groups or society at large, but that "presently there are other churches ... planning to implement similar studies."

The bishops voted to begin the first three segments of what will eventually be a six-part study. The total cost is expected to be $2 million to $3 million and the researchers are seeking most of the money from outside foundations. The parts the bishops approved yesterday are due to be completed in 2007 and 2008, with the entire study expected to be completed in 2009.

Bishop Gregory Aymond of Austin, Texas, chairman of the bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, stressed that the examination of bishops' responses would go back only to 1985. That is the year most bishops became aware of a possible systematic problem through news coverage and other reports to the bishops on a priest who abused many children in Louisiana.

"We don't have to be afraid of the truth," Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, Md., told his fellow bishops during the discussion. "The more truth we have, the better off we will be for the future."

Bishop Lawrence Brandt of Greensburg said the study would be critical to preventing future abuse. Because the bishops are genuinely trying to find the roots of the problem, "I think history will judge our efforts favorably," he said.

Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., a member of the child protection committee whose work has been praised by survivor groups, said he believed the study would help show that the bishops are acting in good faith.

"We know that any time we do something to address this issue, it continues to keep it in the media. But we value the contribution we can make to child protection, not only in the church but in society. And we hope that is the message that the survivors take from this," he said

Ann Rodgers can be reached at or 412-263-1416.


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