One Year Later: the Catholic Abuse Scandal
Controversy Swirls to a Lesser Extent, but Local Bishop Says 'We Have Done Quite Well'

By Edith C. Webster
Rockford Register Star [Rockford IL]
Downloaded June 21, 2003


That is how Rockford Bishop Thomas Doran described the resignation of former Gov. Frank Keating from the U.S. Catholic bishops' national review board.

Keating, a former FBI agent, headed a committee charged with overseeing the church's response to last year's sexual abuse scandal. He resigned Monday after controversial remarks he made comparing some bishops and their "code of silence" to the mafia.

"My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology," he said. "To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away -- that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church."

After the Boston Globe began publishing their Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories about priest abuse in the Catholic church in January 2002, similar news broke out around the country. Hundreds of allegations, including those made in May by the Misslich family against former Rockford priest Harlan Clapsaddle, were reported.

The bishops responded to the scandal with a policy, later revised by order of the Vatican, to remove abusive priests from ministry. Controversy continues to circle the church as it follows through on the policy, which mandated oversight by the review board and an extensive survey documenting the abuse.

The timing of Keating's resignation made the news bigger than it might otherwise have been. The action came just days before the bishops national meeting opened Thursday, one year after Keating was appointed to help them deal with a scandal that had plagued the church for months.

No bishop would like being compared to a mobster, Doran said, but he understands the outrage behind Keating's critical comments.

"They reflect the sheer outrage sensed by legions of Catholics who feel betrayed by their bishops, the outrage felt by the thousands of holy and faithful priests shamed by the horrid actions of some of their numbers, and the outrage of the vast majority of bishops who are cooperating with the National Review Board," Doran said.

Before this week's news about Keating and the Phoenix bishop resigned after a fatal hit-and-run accident, Doran talked about the Rockford diocese's defense in the case of a former Belvidere priest accused of sexual abuse and the problems caused by "our sex-saturated society."

QUESTION: We published an Associated Press article about the most extensive survey yet on priests who molest children, commissioned at last year's meeting. Several dioceses have not responded because of concerns.

ANSWER: We are not one of those dioceses. The questions are searching and difficult, because as some bishops have expressed, the people who composed the survey do not appear to be all that secure in what they are asking about. It is painstaking, but I did not find anything that we couldn't respond to.

Q: We have reported the diocese statement that you will not comment on the Mark Campobello case (regarding a former Belvidere priest accused of sexual assault). In the May 16 edition of The Observer (the diocese's newspaper), Msgr. Eric Barr wrote about First Amendment issues regarding the Mark Campobello case. (The diocese has argued it is protected in its refusal to give prosecutors documents in the criminal case). Why was it important for the diocese to make those points?

A: It is important that public authorities have the information that they need to enforce the law. That's not our quarrel. We are portrayed by some as acting to protect criminals. That's untrue.

We have been after this problem since 1985. One of the things we did was have people undergo medical assessments. Those things are given to doctors under pledge of confidentiality. When we receive these reports, it's because the subject has indicated to the doctor to release them to us. We are not allowed to divulge this to anyone else.

We're put in a position, not so much to defend the church's rights but the subject's right to have confidentiality respected.

Q: Just after you came back from last June's national bishops conference in Dallas, we quoted you as saying, "We must reinforce the trust of our people where we have it and to regain it where we may have lost it. ... We have to ensure the safety of the children. Those objectives are paramount. Our purpose is not to cover up or shield priests."

After a year of all of this, how well do you think the church has responded?

A: From my perspective, as the bishop of this diocese, I think we have done quite well. Have we satisfied everyone? No. Will we ever satisfy everyone? Probably not.

Nationally, ... I would like to see more help from the news media and the political government in realizing that this is a societal problem.

It suits some to say that this is a Catholic problem. I don't accept that, but I could see how a person reading the general press would get that impression. It is a problem of our sex-saturated society.

People are saying this will wreck the church. No, no, no, no.

Our church is 2000 years old. We have dealt with Caesar, the kings, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. All those people are dead, and the church is still here.

Q: You ordained a record number of priests last month.

A: We ordained 11 priests, the largest number ever ordained in our diocese. We have been blessed. It almost seems as if the troubles of the church, just as they scandalize many, so call forth from our young people renewed commitment to the values of the church.

Q: Through this last year, if there has been any discouragement, fear or concerns from your priests about how they being perceived, what have you been telling them?

A: It's a message that is meant to reassure them that the anger of the people is properly directed at the bishops for perceived lapses in disciplines. At the parish level, as long as the priests continue to do their work, there isn't a lot of anger directed at them.

By and large, our priests have shown themselves to be diligent, conscientious and faithful.

It's kind of paradoxical that one of the institutions that led the charge against the Catholic church is The New York Times, and now, it appears that the worm has turned, as it always does.

(The New York Times is facing credibility problems because of a plagiarism scandal in which brought down two top editors.); 815-987-1394.

Key dates: A look back at the year

June 14, 2002: Bishops respond to months of scandal by passing a national policy that called for the permanent removal of any priest found guilty of sexual abuse; former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating is named chairman of a national board charged with monitoring the bishops' compliance with the new rules.

June 24, 2002: Officials at Rockford's St. Anthony of Padua confirm that they are investigating allegations of abuse against the late Rev. Ted Feely, Franciscan priest who served at the church 30 years ago.

June 26, 2002: Monsignor Timothy M. Dolan, an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis with experience overseeing sexual abuse claims, is named to succeed retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland. Weakland resigned after admitting that he paid a $450,000 settlement to a former Marquette University student who said Weakland had sexually assaulted him.

July 20, 2002: Thousands of Catholic churchgoers attend the first national conference of Voice of the Faithful, a Boston-based group formed in response to the scandal and pressing for greater lay involvement in the church.

July 28, 2002: In his first public comments on the scandal, Pope John Paul II, speaking at the Mass for World Youth Day in Toronto, said sexual abuse by priests "fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame."

July 30, 2002: Shut out of membership on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' National Review Board, which will oversee the new Office for Child and Youth Protection, the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests meets with the commission.

Aug. 2, 2002: Cardinal Bernard Law, in his first public court appearance since the sex abuse scandal broke in Boston early in the year, defends the archdiocese's decision to back out of a multimillion-dollar settlement with 86 alleged victims of convicted pedophile and ex-priest John Geoghan.

Aug. 22, 2002: Rockford Bishop Thomas Doran expands the local sexual misconduct committee to change the balance of power to lay Catholics.

Aug. 24, 2002: Officials at St. Anthony of Padua tell the congregation that a second former priest, the late Franciscan, the Rev. Edwin Banach is being investigated for allegations of abuse against two boys in the 1960s.

Sept. 7, 2002: Doran is one of 15 bishops nationwide named to the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, which will oversee enactment of the new sexual abuse policy.

Oct. 23, 2002: Doran is one of four American bishops appointed to work with Vatican officials in revising the policy set in June at the Dallas conference.

Nov. 13, 2002: Bishops approve the revised policy, which gives priests more opportunity to defend themselves against allegations of abuse.

Dec. 3, 2002: The Rev. Mark A. Campobello is relieved of duty as pastor of St. James of Belvidere after he is arrested on sexual abuse charges.

Dec. 13, 2002: Cardinal Law resigns as head of the archdiocese of Boston, where the sexual abuse scandal began at the beginning of the year.

Jan. 10, 2003: Campobello pleads not guilty to 15 counts of sexual assault and abuse of a minor, referring to incidents in 1999 against a 14-year-old girl in Geneva.

April 7, 2003: The Boston Globe wins the Pulitzer Prize for public service for its coverage of the abuse scandal.

May 3, 2003: In an unprecedented agreement with prosecutors, Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien gives up some of his authority to avoid prosecution for covering up sexual abuse by priests.

May 22, 2003: The Rockford diocese is held in contempt of court after refusing to turn over documents in the Campobello case.

May 29, 2003: A spokeman for Newark Archbishop John Myers says Myers and others are balk at answering a bishop-mandated survey about abuse because they are concerned the information may be used for lawsuits.

June 16, 2003: Keating resigns as chair of the National Catholic Review Board, making "no apology" for controversial statements he made saying some bishops were acting like the mafia.

June 18, 2003: Phoenix Bishop O'Brien resigns after he is arrested in connection with a fatal hit-and-run traffic accident.

June 19, 2003: The bishops' 2003 general meeting opens in St. Louis.

Conference concludes

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops concludes its annual meeting June 21, in St. Louis.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse reports on implementation of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which was developed by the bishops at the 2002 meeting.

There will be a press conference at the conclusion of this morning's session. A midday news conference will feature Archbishop Michael Sheehan, temporary head of the Phoenix, Ariz., diocese, where Bishop Thomas O'Briend resigned after a felony arrest over a fatal hit-and-run accident, the Associated Press reported.

In other business at the conference Thursday, the opening day:

Bishops, National Review Board members and staffers conducting an investigation of past abuse met in a closed-door session. AP quoted review board member Robert Bennett as saying that "the overwhelming number" of U.S. bishops fully support the board's efforts.

The Ad Hoc Committee on Native American Catholics released the report, "Native American Catholics at the Millennium." Nearly 500,00 Native Americans or 12 percent of the population are Catholic.


Local Catholics comment on the bishops and the status of the church, a year after the scandal:

"I think things are improving. Communications are more open, particularly in regards to this bishop in Phoenix. It's wonderful that he stepped down immediately." -- Valeri DeCastris, Rockford

"The only way the bishops will be successful in the purification of the Catholic church is that they must have strong leadership and courage to follow through on what needs to be done to correct the problems. Then their goals will be accomplished." -- Rose Wyrostek, Rockford

"Unfortunately, priests are human beings. They make mistakes. When we go to church, our pastor (the Rev. David Beauvais, St. James of Rockford) says he's sorry about what has happened, but it is out of his reach." -- Hector Garza, Loves Park

"The church is still strong. I don't think this has damaged the church in the least. Those who left the church because of this probably weren't Catholic in the first place." -- Larry Schnorr, Pecatonica

"We're doing better, but we've got a long way to go. This church is full of human people,and we are prone to make mistakes, but I believe, as painful as it is, it's going to be good in the long run." -- Richard Gerdeman, permanent deacon, St. Bernadette Church, Rockford

"It's sad to say that Bishop Doran seems to be more concerned with the well being of the pedophile priests than he is with the victims, the affected parishes or the opinions of the people who make up the church and contribute to it with their weekly donations. One wonders what, if anything, he took away from the 2002 bishops conference." -- Kevin Misslich, former Rockford resident who went public last year with allegations that the Rev. Harlan Clapsaddle abused him and his brothers in the 1970s


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