Bishops Approve Changes to Policy on Abuse

By Bob Scott
Journal and Courier (Lafayette, IN)
November 14, 2002

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops voted overwhelmingly Wednesday, 246-7 with six abstentions, to protect the rights of priests accused of sexually abusing children.

The bishops revised a sex abuse policy they issued last summer. A key part of the revised policy is a statute of limitations - an abuse victim must report the claim to a bishop by age 28 to warrant a review and investigation.

A sampling of opinion brought out a concern for children and priests.

Melissa Young-Spillars said the safety of children is always paramount. She is a mother, a practicing Catholic, and a Purdue University graduate student.

"I'm concerned that the children be protected," she said. "Most priests are honorable men doing honorable work, but it's very important to go the extra mile to protect children."

Young-Spillars, a new member of St. Mary Cathedral in Lafayette, said she is "torn by the statute of limitations."

"There is a difference between people who bring it up as a child and are ignored, and adults who bring it up. I have to think about this some more."

Coleen Hamrick said there is no statute of limitations on the healing required for abuse victims. She is the director of Tippecanoe Court Appointed Special Advocates, which works with cases of child abuse and neglect.

"It is important to help these people and address the issues they have," she said. "It is a hurt that never goes away. The physical scars will go away, but the emotional scars are always there."

Attempts to reach Bishop William Higi of the Lafayette Diocese were unsuccessful Wednesday. He was in Washington and voted on the revised policy.

The Rev. Timothy Alkire, pastor of St. Boniface Church in Lafayette, said the new policy provides due process for priests.

"Bishops still must follow local laws about reporting cases of abuse," he said. "A good part coming out of this is diocesan lay boards will continue to review abuse accusations."

The U.S. bishops are "doing their best to respond quickly to abuse charges and protect the rights of due process that every priest has."

Alkire said loyal Roman Catholics hold their priests to high standards.

"They want to tell their priests, 'We expect you to follow the moral law of Jesus Christ.' If the priest cannot follow the moral law of Jesus Christ, what are they doing in the priesthood?"

Therese Byerly of Indianapolis said she is more concerned about abuse victims than the rights of accused priests.

Byerly filed complaints against her uncle, the Rev. Donald Eder, accusing him of fondling her breasts when she was a girl.

"My uncle fondled me up to age 11-13, a half dozen times, during his visits to my parents' house in Carmel," she said.

Eder is the pastor of St. Patrick Church in Oxford. In 1997, the Lafayette Diocese settled a sexual harassment lawsuit that claimed Eder touched the breasts of female workers at his former parish, St. Louis de Montfort in Fishers.

Byerly told the Journal and Courier on Wednesday that she was 25 when she first approached Higi in 1995 about the alleged abuse, and her claim was not acted upon.

She made the claim again this summer after the U.S. bishops issued their zero tolerance policy, which still remains in place after Wednesday's vote. But a lay review board rejected her claim on July 10.

"In my case, the bishop in Lafayette didn't do a good job of reviewing the information," she said.

Byerly said she has stopped practicing her faith.

"I feel alienated from the church. I don't feel welcome to be truthful," she said.

Lafayette diocese officials couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.


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