Belleville Diocesan Review Board Policy Revisited

By Liz Quirin
Belleville Messenger
June 21, 2002

Bishop Wilton Gregory is expected to review cases of diocesan priests who have been removed for clerical sexual abuse with minors, Msgr. James Margason, vicar general, said.

The bishop is expected, with the passage of a “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” June 14 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to send some of the cases to Rome to request laicization of the priests.

“Up to this point, the bishop has not taken any of these cases to Rome,” Msgr. Margason said, but “those priests removed from ministry and placed on administrative leave were asked to seek laicization (loss of the clerical state). At this point, only one priest has asked for laicization.”

However, because of the Charter’s provisions, “the bishop has decided to review all of those cases to determine that the sexual abuse has been ‘established,’ and then after that review, he will seek the removal from the clerical state of those priests in Rome.”

The norms give direction for the procedure to follow if the allegation(s) of sexual abuse have been “established,” even if the priest or deacon does not admit the abuse.

“If the cleric does not admit he is guilty of sexual abuse, the norms use the word ‘established’ after an appropriate investigation.”

The allegation can be established “either by a court verdict or by the Review Board itself saying this is an ‘established’ event. That is what we do with our second stage review according to our policy,” Msgr. Margason said.

While the norms passed by the bishops — 229-5 — do outline the procedure to be followed, Msgr. Margason said the Vatican could “establish different processes for removal from the clerical state. We will follow whatever the church processes are to do this. They may be new processes or the current processes which are already in place.”

Whatever the outcome, the present Diocesan Review Board policy complies with the policy that was outlined by the Charter.

Many dioceses, Bishop Gregory said, like this one, instituted and are following policies for the removal of priests for sexual abuse of minors.
“If a current accusation (of sexual abuse) is made against a priest with a minor it goes to the Department of Children and Family Services,” Msgr. Margason said. DCFS sends a report to the State’s Attorney’s office.
“If the accusation refers to an event with a victim who was a minor at the time but is no longer a minor when making the accusation, it is turned over to the State’s Attorney’s office for investigation and to the Diocesan Review Board,” he said.

“For an accusation to be an allegation there must be a victim, an event, a time and a place,” he added.

Msgr. Margason compared the norms passed by the bishops’ conference with the Belleville Diocesan Review Board policy which was instituted in 1993.

“The Charter says there is to be a review board made up of a majority of lay people, none of whom is in the employ of the diocese, and it is to have at least one priest on it.”

The Diocesan Review Board of seven people has a majority of lay people; none of them is in the employ of the diocese; and it has three priests on it.

“Our Review Board policy is more specific,” Msgr. Margason said.
It is comprised of at least one lay member attorney, one member a psychologist or therapist familiar with sexual abuse. One should be a parish council member, and one should be a victim or family member of a victim.

Some of the members have been on the Board since the beginning, and some have rotated off.

The policy calls for an investigation of an allegation within 72 hours of it being made to the Board.

“If the Review Board believes there is real substance to the allegation, the priest is to be promptly removed from ministry. He can no longer function in a parish or other ministry,” Msgr. Margason said.

“In this diocese he is placed on administrative leave; he cannot be in the presence of a minor; he cannot wear clerical clothing.”

“Our policy is in full compliance with the Charter,” he said.

Through the Charter and the norms on a national level, and Diocesan Review Boards on a local level, Bishop Gregory said, “we have thus made a solemn promise to our people that the priesthood will not be used to harm a child.”

Media questioned Bishop Gregory at his St. Louis press conference about the accountability of bishops in following the Charter and the norms.

“I shudder to think that a bishop would dare to try not to follow the requirements of the Charter, hoping that (his actions) wouldn’t be publicly known,” Bishop Gregory said.

“This current moment has gained national, if not international, attention simply because some bishops didn’t take the time to do it right. Who wants to be next on that list?”


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