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  Catholic Charter Expands Outreach
Some Policies on Abuse Already Exist in Area

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post
June 16, 2002

For Washington area Catholics, the new national policy on clerical child sexual abuse adopted Friday by Roman Catholic bishops will mean greater lay involvement in handling abuse allegations, an end to practically all confidential agreements with abuse victims and more aggressive outreach to those victims.

Many other aspects of the historic Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, endorsed by the bishops in response to the church's sexual abuse scandal, have been in place for years in the archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore and the Diocese of Arlington.

All three jurisdictions, for example, already require that all child sex abuse allegations be reported to authorities. And in most instances in recent years, Washington area priests have been removed from active parish ministry after even one allegation of child abuse, no matter when it occurred.

Washington's three Catholic prelates said they were pleased with the charter. "I will do everything I can to implement it," said Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, head of the Archdiocese of Washington, said he was satisfied with what he called a "strong document." He added, "I pray that from now on we will be able to guarantee our people that this won't happen again and that they can have confidence in the church."

With each successive vote at the bishops' two-day meeting, said Cardinal William H. Keeler of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, "Those who favor a strong policy were gaining ground. And in the end, we're really at a zero tolerance point." Keeler called it "fantastic" that "the vote was so positive." Only 13 of the 252 bishops who cast ballots voted against the charter.

The policy obliges bishops to remove from ministry -- including administrative positions -- any priest involved in child abuse at any time in the past, even if he had been medically treated and had not committed another offense. The bishops also may take steps to remove such priests from the clerical state, a process called laicization, but are not required to do so.

Loverde said he had favored a less stringent policy for priests with accusations from long ago.

"Every bishop would know of one or two priests who had offended" in the past but who are not pedophiles and have "done a good job for many years," Loverde said. "Part of me is saddened that they can no longer" be in ministry. But he added that he will comply with the new policy, because "the common good comes first."

Loverde acknowledged that at least one priest now in ministry in the diocese faced allegations in the past and added, "I'll have to have some time to deal with that."

That priest is the Rev. Stephen Roszel, who says Mass at St. Rita's in Alexandria. He was placed on administrative leave in 1994, after a woman accused him in a civil suit of abusing her when she was a minor. Roszel denied the allegation. The suit was settled under terms not publicly disclosed, and Roszel was returned to ministry.

Another area priest facing past accusations is the Rev. Russell L. Dillard, former pastor of St. Augustine's in Northwest Washington. Dillard was suspended in March when two women came forward and accused him of sexually abusing them 20 years ago when they were minors. The new charter appears to bar his return to ministry.

McCarrick said Dillard "is still in a therapeutic center, and when I have their evaluation, I will study it, and it will also be studied by our lay board, and we'll see what will happen after that." He added, however, that with the new policy, "I have no choice now. I have to follow" it.

McCarrick voiced reservations about the document's definition of sexual abuse, which states that "a child is abused whether or not this activity involves explicit force, whether or not it involves genital or physical contact . . . and whether or not there is discernible harmful outcome."

The cardinal said he was concerned that some displays of affection by priests might be construed as sexual abuse.

But McCarrick said he is pleased that the charter does not oblige bishops to laicize priests who committed sexual abuse in the past, especially because most are now elderly. He has spoken in favor of allowing such offenders to live under supervision in "safe environments" and be allowed to say Mass in private. That probably would not be the case with future offenders, who are now on notice about the church's tough attitude toward child sex abuse and so are more likely to be removed from the priesthood as well as ministry, McCarrick said.

The bishops' decision not to force all offenders -- past, present and future -- out of the priesthood was criticized by many victims.

"I feel like Charlie Brown when Lucy pulled the football away from him again," said Arlington resident Lee White, 46, Virginia representative of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "I'm disappointed."

All three area Catholic jurisdictions are likely to experience some changes in existing lay review boards. The charter calls for each diocese to have "a review board, the majority of whose members will be lay persons not in the employ of the diocese . . . [to] assess allegations" and review diocesan policies for dealing with sexual abuse of minors.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, Keeler said, will initiate victim outreach programs, an effort he described as "a very difficult and challenging part" of the new policy. In addition to child sex abuse prevention programs, the charter calls for "outreach to every person who has been the victim of sexual abuse," whether that abuse "was recent or occurred many years in the past."

Many victims of abuse by priests have complained bitterly that dioceses, including Washington and Baltimore, made no effort to find them after discovering that some of their priests were serial pedophiles. Some victims who did come forward were given secret financial payments and asked not to publicize their accusations. Such payments are now mostly prohibited under the charter, which states that dioceses "will not enter into confidentiality agreements except for grave and substantial reasons brought forward by the victim/survivor."

Keeler said that the night before he left for Dallas, he telephoned Dontee D. Stokes, the man who had accused the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell of abuse and who last month allegedly shot the priest outside his Baltimore home.

Keeler said he had promised Stokes that "I need to work to make sure that what we did here [in Dallas] would honor our concerns . . . that no one who works in the name of the church would harm a child."

 
 

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