Bill on Sex Predators Clears Hurdle but Diocese Criticized
By James Dowd
Commercial Appeal [Tennessee]
May 9, 2007
The day after the state Senate unanimously passed a bill to protect children from sexual predators, members of an advocacy group for abuse victims criticized the Catholic Diocese of Memphis for not doing enough to keep minors safe.
A companion bill set to be heard today in the House Education Committee must pass the House and be signed by Gov. Phil Bredesen before becoming law.
Tennessee leaders of SNAP (Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests) on Tuesday blamed Bishop J. Terry Steib for allowing pedophile priests to serve in the diocese and called on church leaders to step up efforts to identify and prosecute abusers.
Ann Brentwood, Southeastern coordinator for SNAP, said Steib put local children at risk by allowing alleged child molester Father Juan Carlos Duran and others to serve in the diocese. And she questioned whether adequate measures have been taken to prevent future abuse.
"We continue to be concerned by the lack of transparency and accountability in this diocese," Brentwood said during a protest demonstration in front of the Shelby County Courthouse. "We have all these men in power who knew there was abuse of minors that had occurred and yet they helped the perpetrator get away."
SNAP leaders claim diocesan officials arranged for Duran to leave Memphis rather than face prosecution. They also condemned church leaders for allowing abusers to transfer from diocese to diocese, and they're calling for the diocese to compile a list of abusive priests and make it available to every parish.
"There have been several transplants to Memphis of priests who abused children in other areas," Brentwood said. "I can forgive a pedophile because they're mentally ill, but it's hard to forgive church leaders who know about them and still put our children at risk."
The Senate bill requires employers that contract with schools or child care centers to perform background checks on those who have contact with children and prohibits registered sexual offenders from working at schools or child care facilities when children are present.
Father John Geaney, diocesan spokesman, said the diocese already does much more than that.
"We've trained thousands of clergy and laity who deal with children on how to recognize signs of sexual abuse and how to deal with it," Geaney said. "We've responded to all credible allegations of abuse, and we've been transparent about removing anyone from the ministry if there was any wrongdoing.
"We continue to assist victims and encourage anyone who has been abused to come forward. This goes on every day of every week of every year."
Duran, a former Dominican friar, was assigned to Church of the Ascension in Raleigh. He was relieved of ministerial duties after admitting to church officials that he had exposed himself to a teenage boy in 2000 and was transferred out of Memphis later that year.
In a warrant issued in St. Louis in 2004, he was charged with sodomizing a boy there in 1998. He is believed to be living in Bolivia, where he has family.
To report abuse, contact the diocese at 652-4066 or SNAP at 569-4500.
-- James Dowd: 529-2737
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