What the Bishop Can Do
The Culture of Secrecy about Child Abuse Is Still Widespread

Charlotte Observer
July 7, 2008

From David Clohessy of St. Louis, Mo., national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests:

It's been five years since the first national Catholic sex abuse policy took effect, adopted by America's bishops under tremendous criticism for concealing thousands of crimes against children. Court records and news accounts show that a dozen North Carolina priests have been publicly suspended for child sex abuse allegations in recent years.

Isn't that enough? Sadly, no. Actions, not policies, protect kids. And suspending predators doesn't cure them. It's what any prudent defense lawyer, insurer or public relations staffer would advise. It's self-interest, not real reform.

Two simple, proven steps are sorely needed. First, Charlotte Bishop Peter Jugis should follow the lead of 15 of his colleagues across the country who have posted on their diocesan Web sites the names of all proven, admitted and credibly accused child-molesting clerics. Parents can best protect their kids when they know who the predators are.

Second, Jugis should personally visit each parish where a pedophile worked, begging victims to come forward. He should start with churches where Fr. Robert Yurgel was assigned. Yurgel was arrested weeks ago for allegedly molesting a Charlotte boy in 1999. History, psychology and common sense strongly suggest that if he's guilty, he didn't abuse just one kid. It's our civic duty, each of us, to help police determine whether the accusations against him are true.

Third, Jugis should emphatically, repeatedly prod anyone who saw, suspected or suffered potential sex crimes to call the police. For decades, Catholic parishioners and authorities have tried to deal with child molestation quietly and in-house; it should be handled by the independent, experienced law enforcement professionals. That culture of secrecy is still widespread. It won't change unless the bishop, by his actions, shows he wants it to change.

Church officials (like David Hains, spokesman for Charlotte's bishop, in an Observer column June 17) often pat themselves on the back for training kids and employees about abuse in recent years. They rarely mention, however, that this is happening only because of pressure from the public and parishioners in response to horrific disclosures about unspeakable crimes and cover ups. While this training may help prevent future abuse, it does little to help the thousands already victimized and still hurting. Nor does it help jail the thousands of predatory priests who are suspended but still walk free.

During his recent visit to the United States, Pope Benedict made his wishes clear. Catholics, he said, should "do everything possible" to heal the deep wounds caused by the crisis. We share the pope's view. Much remains to be done to protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded. Nothing helps more than consistent, sincere outreach to victims who are in pain and real consequences for the predators.


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