Catholic Church Advisory Group Discussed Child Abuse
Abuse Victims Ask Bishops to Do More to Protect Children

By Eileen E. Flynn
American-Statesman [Texas]
February 18, 2006

Nearly four years after Catholic bishops established a national policy to address the clergy sex abuse that rocked the American church, the bishops and the lay group appointed to hold them accountable have not done enough to protect minors from predatory priests, a victims' rights group argued Friday.

Six members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, gathered outside the Northwest Austin hotel where the National Review Board, a lay advisory group that reports to the bishops, is meeting through today.

The board's sessions, which were closed to the public, included a meeting with Bishop Gregory Aymond, head of the Austin Diocese and chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Survivors Network members have asked church leaders, some of whom covered up abuse for decades, to be more transparent with information on molesters.

"(Bishops have) erred in protecting priests, not children," said Mary Grant, a SNAP board member who flew to Austin this week from Los Angeles. "We know the crisis has been created because church officials have aided and abetted (abusive priests)."

Mark Hill, an Austin resident molested by a priest as a child, praised Aymond's efforts to remove abusive priests but urged leaders to go further by holding themselves accountable to a truly independent review board.

"The watchdog," he said, "has become a lap dog."

On Friday, a pressing concern was the recent scandal in the Archdiocese of Chicago where Cardinal Francis George allowed priests accused of sex abuse to remain in ministry. George has apologized and called for outside consultants to review the archdiocese's policies on handling allegations.

Members called on the review board to censure George.

Patricia O'Donnell Ewers, review board chairwoman, would not comment Friday. And Aymond contended that it is not the review board's place to reprimand the cardinal, whom he defended as "one of the strongest voices on the implementation of the charter."

Aymond also said he disagreed with the Survivors Network claim that the review board did not hold bishops accountable.

"They challenge the bishops," he said. "There is a cooperative and collaborative relationship."

The board formed after the bishops 2002 meeting in Dallas, where they drafted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter stated that a priest found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor could not continue in the ministry, addressed ways for the church to reach out to victims, and other goals.

Chris Lippincott, a spokesman for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, also attended the news conference Friday and said the attention to the abuse problem can only help victims.

"Our hope is the meeting today and the ongoing work of both of the church and of organizations like SNAP and others will continue to keep a spotlight on this issue," he said.; 445-3812


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