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  Twin Cities: Archdiocese Says Policy on Abuse Has Improved

By Stephen Scott
Saint Paul Pioneer Press
November 15, 2002

The revised clergy sex-abuse policy approved this week by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops will better protect children, and measures implemented locally in the past six months will move ahead, officials of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis said Thursday.

Victims' groups say the measures are a step back from the policy approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June in Dallas.

But Archbishop Harry Flynn said in a statement Thursday that in passing the Vatican-requested revisions, U.S. bishops "have not retreated from either the intent nor the specifics of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

The new policy, which will go back to the Vatican for final approval, calls for bishops to conduct preliminary, private investigations of abuse allegations, and to set up church tribunals to judge accused priests. It also sets a 10-year statute of limitations, which would require child victims of sex abuse to file complaints by age 28.

The Vatican was concerned that the measures approved in Dallas, which would have barred any priest accused of sex abuse from church work, denied priests due process.

"It isn't a big move back, but it's going to be perceived as a big move back," said Gary Schoener, clergy abuse expert and director of the Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneapolis. "The ultimate issue is to do the right thing. You don't need rules for that. You need the will."

The policy still requires that offending priests or deacons will be removed permanently from ministry for even one admitted or proven instance of abuse, said Flynn, who heads the bishops' ad hoc committee on clergy sex abuse.

Provisions resulting from the bishops' June meeting will carry forward, archdiocese chancellor William Fallon said.

That includes the formation of a provincial review board aimed at improving accountability among the 10 dioceses of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The archdiocese's clergy review board, set up in 1995, will continue its work, Fallon said, as will the archdiocese's victim advocate.

The status of three priests accused of sexually abusing a minor is unaffected by this week's policy revisions. In accordance with the Dallas policy, the archdiocese removed two past offenders, the Revs. Gilbert Gustafson and Michael Stevens, from nonparish jobs in the chancery.

The case of a third accused priest, the Rev. Joseph Wajda, was referred to the clergy review board after the Dallas meeting because he denies allegations of abuse made against him in 1989.

Wajda's case is still under review, Fallon said Thursday.

"Three or four" retired priests in the archdiocese also withdrew from ministry after passage of the Dallas charter, Fallon said.

The investigation into allegations made in May against retired Bishop Paul Dudley is complete, and a report was forwarded to the Vatican about three weeks ago, said Fallon, who expects an announcement of findings within a month.

While the bishops' actions this week focused on the church's internal response to allegations, their charter -- and the sex abuse policy of the Twin Cities archdiocese -- requires them to report alleged sex abuse of minors to civil authorities.

 
 

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