Public Pressure Puts Teeth in Church Abuse Policy

By Charles Honey
Grand Rapids Press
January 10, 2007

Grand Rapids -- A policy passed by U.S. Catholic bishops to remove sexually abusive priests has no teeth to penalize bishops or dioceses that fail to do so, church experts say.

However, public pressure and the potential for Vatican discipline help ensure that bishops enforce the zero-tolerance policy and related norms for the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, first approved by bishops in Dallas in 2002.

"There's nothing in the charter that would penalize a bishop" for not enforcing it, said Nicholas Cafardi, former chairman of the National Review Board charged with overseeing application of the policy. "The real structure of the Dallas norms was not to make it a crime to reassign (abusive) priests, (but) to provide a mechanism of public pressure whereby they would not do it."

Grand Rapids Bishop Walter Hurley said he removed the Rev. David Le Blanc last week, stemming from a 1971 incident, in accordance with provisions of the charter.

Questions remain, however, as to why Le Blanc was not removed earlier under the charter's provisions, which call for removal for a single instance of confirmed abuse of a minor. Former Bishop Robert Rose removed or accepted the resignations of seven priests before he retired in 2003.

It is not known whether Rose or his successor, deceased Bishop Kevin Britt, reviewed the file on Le Blanc, who first admitted the abuse in 1993. Diocesan spokesman Mary Haarman said Rose was "very supportive" of Hurley's decision. Rose has not returned calls seeking comment.

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