|Local Bishops Ready
to Implement Policies
By Ruby Nancy
The Quad-City Catholics’ two representatives at last week’s U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB, in Dallas, both agree that it boils down to the responsibility of bishops to weed out priests who commit sexual abuse against children.
Bishop William Franklin, head of the Diocese of Davenport, and Bishop Daniel Jenky, who heads the Diocese of Peoria, which includes the Illinois Quad-Cities, now are charged with implementing the new policy called Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was adopted in Dallas.
Though some critics say the charter is too weak, it has been described as a “first-strike” policy, since it calls for the removal of priests from ministry based on a single complaint — past, present or future — and preliminary investigation of alleged sexual abuse. It does not call for the removal of bishops who have protected pedophile priests by shuttling them from parish to parish.
In a prepared statement, Franklin said the council recognized bishops as carrying the primary responsibility for preventing abuse.
“At this meeting, we gathered to focus on our responsibility to our people,” he wrote. “It is the responsibility of the bishop, his clergy and the faithful to protect and provide for our children’s safety. This meeting truly gave the bishops an opportunity, which they took, to accept responsibility for past failures of leadership by not dealing more vigorously with this problem in past years.”
Jenky also said the Dallas meeting addressed the issue of administrative responsibility head-on.
“The bishops themselves have accepted responsibility for the problems that exist in the church,” he said during a Tuesday press conference. “The bishops own, I would say, own the responsibility for what has been allowed to happen. They were not as educated or as vigilant as they should be.”
Franklin said the council plans to revisit the charter in a formal way. “In two years, the document will be reviewed, and from our experiences with it we will take adjustments so that we can further serve the people, the victims, and the church.”
The Davenport Diocese’s sexual misconduct policy, adopted in 1998 and revised in 2001, is similar to the new charter in some ways. It calls for “alleged perpetrators” to be “immediately removed from any possible contact with children or vulnerable adults,” specifically says sexual abuse by priests and other employees is “grounds for immediate termination of employment” at the discretion of the bishop. And, though other personnel are to be fired, the policy says abusing clergy are to be placed on administrative leave instead, and possibly considered for reassignment. It does not currently require reporting to outside authorities except as required by mandatory reporting laws.
“There will be challenges in implementing this document on the local level,” he wrote. “Each diocese is in some ways unique. For example, size may make a difference and each diocese has different personnel available. However, the interpretation of the document is a uniform one.”
Though the Peoria diocese already has a policy in place — adopted soon after Jenky’s April installation — that is almost identical to the one adopted by the USCCB, Jenky said the diocese would be reviewing and comparing the two “line by line” to insure full compliance.
“Do I think that this diocese will never have to deal with this again?,” he asked rhetorically. “It is very likely that we will. But what I pledge is that I will do my best — and everyone connected to the diocese will do their best — to not run away from it, but to deal with it. I’m proud of this diocese in a million ways — but I’m also proud to say that this policy is a no-brainer for the Diocese of Peoria.”
He already has removed from public ministry seven retired priests and removed another from a parish and public ministry as a result of sexual abuse allegations since being installed as Peoria bishop.
He said most of the recent allegations relate to incidents from many
years ago. But even the two cases that were known to the diocese prior
to his appointment have been dealt with based on new information his predecessor,
Bishop John J. Myers, did not have.
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