Diocese Alters Its Policy on Clergy Abuse
Child Molestation Allegations Are to Be Reported to the State
By Rick Montgomery
Kansas City Star [Kansas & Missouri]
September 14, 1994
Allegations that a priest has molested a child can no longer be kept secret within the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, according to a policy approved by Bishop Raymond J. Boland.
The new policy on sexual misconduct - at 29 pages, about five times thicker than the old one - spells out the diocese's legal obligation to report to state investigators cases involving alleged victims under age 18 "unless those allegations appear to be baseless. " The policy is the work of a panel of laypersons assembled by Boland about 10 months ago, when the newly installed bishop proclaimed "zero tolerance" toward clergy and other diocesan personnel who were found to have abused children. The issue of keeping allegations confidential, which church officials have long argued helps victims step forward, was "by far the most difficult part" of the policy to tackle, said Joe McGuff, the chairman of the review panel.
Last year, before Boland became bishop, the issue flared when Jackson County Prosecutor Claire McCaskill criticized the diocese for refusing to provide names of parishioners who had accused the Rev. Michael Brewer of caressing boys. Brewer, who served in parishes in Kansas City and Blue Springs, has since left the priesthood.
"I believe this diocese is taking the right steps," McCaskill said Tuesday. "It's very important for allegations of this kind to be reported, because other children's safety could be at stake. " The Rev. Richard Carney, chancellor of the diocese, said in a recent interview the practice of granting confidentiality whenever alleged victims insisted on it appeared to clash with state law.
He said church officials were concerned that reporting such allegations to the Missouri Division of Family Services, which investigates abuse, might cause some victims to withdraw their accusations.
"It may cause them to get up and leave," Carney said, "but frankly, we don't know any way to grant confidentiality under the law. " State law requires the reporting of suspected sexual abuse of a child by anyone who has "the care, custody and control" of children. Clergy, however, were specifically dropped from the language of the law in 1982.
Also, Carney said, the law tangled with the diocese's practice of having a mental health professional present during interviews of persons allegedly involved in sexual abuse. Licensed therapists are required to report accusations to the Division of Family Services.
McGuff said the review panel examined sexual abuse policies from several other dioceses, interviewed mental health professionals and lawyers, and concluded it was best to report cases involving minors.
"We feel that this policy now in place strengthens the previous policy and responds to Bishop Boland's directive of taking a pro-active stance in addressing the problem of sexual abuse," McGuff said.
The panel also included former Jackson County Prosecutor Albert Riederer, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Allegations against at least three priests in the diocese have become public in the last two years.
Although they denied the allegations, Brewer and another priest, the Rev. John Tulipana, have resigned. Tulipana left in January after The Kansas City Star reported that the diocese in 1989 paid $ 150,000 to Richard Durocher, a former parishioner who had accused Tulipana of sexually abusing him as a teen-ager.
The third priest who has been publicly accused, the Rev. Thomas Ward, last month returned as pastor of Nativity of Mary Parish in Independence after his flock voted 845-17 in support of him.
The priest had been placed on administrative leave, but church officials said a psychological evaluation of Ward gave them no reason to believe allegations contained in lawsuit filed by an ex-parishioner in January. The lawsuit is pending.
Ward maintains his innocence. In a recent interview with The Catholic Key , the diocesan newspaper, Ward talked about receiving some 1,200 cards and letters of support.
"If my vocation is to be another Christ, then part of that is suffering," Ward said, adding that held "no animosity" toward his accuser.
David Clohessy of St. Louis, who leads a group of persons alleging to have been abused by priests, said he was encouraged by the diocese's efforts to address the problem, but "I'm sorry it comes this late. " He also expressed skepticism that the diocese will encourage victims to step forward and to report their allegations to the Division of Family Services.
"I've looked through a lot of church policies on sexual abuse, and no matter how they're written, the practice is almost uniformly to keep everything quiet and in-house," said Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
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