Pope Francis Repeats Call for "Zero Tolerance"

By Danae King
Columbus Dispatch
January 6, 2017

Pope Francis, speaking Wednesday at the Vatican, has renewed his call to rid the Roman Catholic Church of child sexual abuse. But Columbus activist Carol Zamonski said the past promises have produced too little action.

Though many reacted positively when Pope Francis recently called for “zero tolerance” of child sexual abuse, Carol Zamonski just felt insulted.

Zamonski, a North Side resident and central Ohio coordinator for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said she’s heard it all before, but little has changed.

“It just confirms my general feeling about the Catholic church, that it’s got such a strong culture of dishonesty and corruption,” said Zamonski, who said she is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a priest. “It will take a lot for them to clean up their act, and so far no one has even come close to getting to that level of action with the Catholic church.”

The pope addressed the issue in a letter to bishops dated Dec. 28 and released Monday. “We hear these children and their cries of pain,” he wrote. “It is a sin that shames us.”

In the letter, written on the day of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the pope called for a renewal of Catholics’ “complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst” and for “zero tolerance.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus has been practicing zero tolerance for 15 years, said Regina E. Quinn, manager of the diocese’s safe environment program, which deals with education and prevention of sexual abuse of children.

Each time the pope makes an announcement, the diocese reviews its policies and procedures, she said. Now, when someone reports abuse, they are referred to the diocese’s victim advocate.

If there’s proof, it will go to the review board, which is made up of priests and local community members, Quinn said.

The diocese reports the incidents to the local authorities and encourages the victim to report, as well, she said.

“We always take them seriously and investigate,” Quinn said. “We cannot say this will never ever happen again, but we are constantly working to improve our practices.”

Child abuse scandals have plagued the Catholic church for years, and the Columbus Diocese has not been unaffected. A SNAP website listed more than 20 priests who served in the diocese and have been publicly accused of sexual abuse. Quinn couldn’t confirm the number.

Zamonski said she knows of about 60 people who experienced abuse locally.

In 2016, the Columbus Diocese got five reports of sexual abuse, Quinn said. Of those, two were about deceased priests, one victim couldn’t identify the priest and the other two were for priests who had already been investigated, though Quinn didn’t know if they were still serving in the diocese.

In 2013, the diocese moved to defrock a priest after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor while he was assigned to a local high school came out. The diocese agreed to a financial settlement in early 2016 in the case, brought by a man who said he was sexually abused by Rev. Ronald Atwood in the 1970s.

The Center for Family Safety and Healing, a Columbus organization focused on addressing family violence, served 1,350 children who were physically or sexually abused in 2015, said Karen Days, director of the center, who praised the pope’s announcement.

“Anytime we can get someone on that platform to say things we’re saying on a local level, it’s a win-win,” Days said. “The sexual abuse of a child by anyone is unacceptable.”

The center doesn’t deal with many allegations against priests; usually the perpetrator is a family member or neighbor, Days said.

The center has worked with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus to address child abuse, she said, with a partnership that started about 15 years ago. The diocese did training on recognizing, responding to and referring those who have suffered from any issues within the family, including child sexual abuse.

“This is not just a Catholic church issue,” Quinn said. “We all need to help protect all of the children.”

Days does think things have changed over time when it comes to child sexual abuse, including more awareness of it.

“It’s not as if it’s increasing, it’s just they know where to go,” she said of victims.









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