Youth Accuses Hawaii Bishop of Pedophilia
By Larry Witham
November 6, 1989
An unidentified young man, cloaked by a screen and with his voice altered electronically, yesterday accused the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hawaii of pedophilia, an accusation the bishop denied afterward.
The charge came at the annual convention of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops from an ad hoc group trying to pressure the bishops into enforcing their 1988 guidelines on investigating child abuse claims.
Church officials have admitted the difficulty of verifying such claims in recent years. Researchers estimate that 2 percent of the nation's 53,000 priests have had a pedophilia problem - no more than reported statistics in other professions.
But Michael Schwartz, chairman of the ad hoc Catholics for an Open Church, said yesterday's press conference was called to publicly pressure the bishops into enforcing their February 1988 guidelines on pedophilia. The guidelines require prompt investigation of a report and, if the charge appears to have merit, suspension of the priest and notification of civil authorities.
Besides the Hawaiian youth, a man from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a mother from the Archdiocese of Chicago, both using pseudonyms, also told of cases of complaints they said were not acted on by the archbishops. Archbishop Rembert Weakland oversees the Milwaukee church and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin is in Chicago.
Hawaiian Bishop Joseph Ferrario, who was here for the annual convention of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he had counseled the young man for homosexuality but did not know the motive of his public charge.
"I denied it then and I deny it now," Bishop Ferrario said of the charge that was first brought to church authorities in 1985.
Patricia Morley, a conservative Catholic activist in Hawaii who corroborated the young man's story at the press conference yesterday, is part of an "ultra-conservative" group that Bishop Ferrario said is trying to discredit him.
The severity of the pedophilia problem was raised in a special 1985 confidential report to select bishops, saying a policy was needed for such cases. It also said that 30 cases had been identified so far in the press and estimated that in the next decade organized law suits amounting to $1 billion in damages could hit the church.
"The problem of priests and child abuse is a serious one, but not a very common one," a statement released yesterday by the lawyer for the bishops said. "The vast, vast majority of priests are living exemplary lives."
At yesterday's press conference, Mr. Schwartz said, "It is because a minimum of bishops have not adopted such procedures that we have the sad task of bringing this before you today." Mr. Schwartz, a Catholic activist, said the documented cases compelled him to make the issue public. He said he and two other Catholics incorporated as an ad hoc group in case of a libel suit.
There are exemplary programs in archdioceses around the country for policing the problem, said Mr. Schwartz, and the Archdiocese of Washington has one of them.
"When pedophiles are protected, the many fine priests in our church are damaged," said the Chicago mother, who reached an out-of-court settlement in an abuse case involving her 13-year-old son.
Bishop Ferrario, who learned of the charge against him in November 1985, said there was an investigation the following year based on letters sent to church authorities by the boy and his mother. But he said he was told while on a visit to Rome a year or two later that the case was closed.
Bishop Ferrario talked with reporters in a relaxed manner during an hour of intense questioning after the press conference. He voluntarily answered questions.
He said the young man, who used the pseudonym "Damian," is reported to have AIDS. Several of the meetings the young man cited were corroborated by the bishop, but he said they were in regard to helping the troubled youth.
"There are a lot of things that I can't say," the bishop said. "I don't know what is going through his mind."
The young man told reporters he would not reveal his name or identity because some members of his family and neighbors and co-workers are not aware of his charges.
Bishop Ferrario said the boy, who once retracted his charges in a letter to church authorities, had told him he was being pressured to bring the charges by the "ultra-conservative Catholic group" led by Mrs. Morley.
The nation's 300 bishops are meeting here this week to celebrate the bicentennial of the American Church and will conduct business ranging from the election of a president of their conference tomorrow to voting on pastoral letters regarding the Middle East and AIDS.
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