Bishop Accountability
  Church Policy Must Protect Abuse Victims

By Quad-City Times Editorial
Quad-City Times
February 20, 2002

The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has been the source of troubling news recently.

A former Boston priest convicted of sexually assaulting a young boy also faces accusations from more than 100 other individuals who allege sexual abuse at his hands over several decades. What’s more, Cardinal Bernard Law admitted he repeatedly gave John J. Geoghan another chance rather than report to the police. The cardinal later agreed to release the names of more than 80 other priests suspected of abuse over the last 40 years.

It’s a tragedy that should have been prevented.

Closer to the Quad-Cities, the situation appears to be more reassuring. The area dioceses of Davenport and Peoria have responsive policies in place to handle complaints of sexual abuse and other alleged criminal behavior by clergy, other church workers and even volunteers.

The well-being of the community, with a focus on the safety of children and other vulnerable groups, is the No. 1 priority, according to spokespersons from both area dioceses. Abusive behavior “is not tolerated. It violates human dignity and the moral mission of the church,” says Irene Prior Loftus, chancellor with the Diocese of Davenport.

That’s as it should be. Victims must be protected.

Priests and other clergy, like all human beings, are susceptible to diseases such as pedophilia and or making bad behavior choices. There should be no “kid glove” treatment if they have abused another person, especially those as defenseless as children or the frail elderly.

At the same time, offenders also should be offered help for their problems. And if falsely accused of criminal behavior, they should be afforded the same protections that every citizen must receive from our legal system.

The policies of both area dioceses call for alleged offenders to be promptly removed from any ministry in which they may pose a threat. Church officials pledge to cooperate with police when criminal behavior is involved. Offenders are to undergo the appropriate treatment program before any consideration is given to returning them to their previous assignments. If treatment is ineffective or the person does not cooperate, he or she can be permanently removed from the ministry.

Many other denominations have similar policies in place.

Much of our nation’s fundamental code of law is based in faith traditions and practices. So, it’s not surprising that faith leaders, perhaps as much as any community figure, are assumed to be trusted friends and models of responsible behavior. The vast majority are. That’s why it’s often difficult for someone, especially a child, to step forward and report abuse by a clergyperson.

And that’s also why it is critical that churches show the public they won’t tolerate abusive behavior.


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