Removal of Two S.J. Priests Will Stand, Bishop Insists
Vatican's Revision 'Demands No Change at All'

By Richard Scheinin
San Jose Mercury News
November 12, 2002

The removal of two local Roman Catholic priests from the ministry will stand, San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath said Monday, even if the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops passes a revised policy on sex abuse Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The revised document "demands no change at all" in his June decision to remove the Rev. Leonel Noia and the Rev. Robert A. Gray from ministry for molesting minors, McGrath said. "None."

Noia's case dates to 1976, Gray's to 1993. Both men were convicted of sex crimes, received psychiatric treatment, and eventually returned to work in the church -- until McGrath removed them from ministry in June, after the U.S. bishops approved a "zero tolerance" policy for priests who abuse minors.

In each case, McGrath said, "there was a civil procedure" that established guilt. "I most certainly won't be reversing anything I've done," he said. "I may have to do more procedures canonically, but this will in no way reverse anything that has happened."

The revised document, negotiated with the Vatican, calls for church tribunals to hear the cases of priests who say they are innocent. It also reinstates the church's 10-year statute of limitations on bringing complaints, but bishops still can ask the Vatican for a waiver in special cases.

"When I went to Dallas in June," McGrath said, "I promised the people of San Jose that I would enact whatever was decided in Dallas. I did that and I am not going back on that promise. I believed in it then and I believe in it now."

Speaking at the end of the first day of the bishops' four-day conference, McGrath maintained that the document on sex abuse being considered in Washington has "strengthened the document of Dallas.

"It says," he continued, "that any person who works in the church who has done anything of this nature, molesting of a minor -- once that is demonstrated and proven to be a reality, then they will never be able to hold a position in the Catholic Church in the United States. I don't know how it can get any stronger than that."

Overall, critics say the Dallas policy gave bishops authority to oust guilty priests more swiftly. But McGrath said the revised plan improves on the Dallas document by spelling out church procedures for removing sexual abusers from their duties.


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