Clergy Sex Abuse Remains Hot Issue

By Jeff Diamant
The Star-Ledger [Newark, New Jersey]
June 14, 2004

When Catholic bishops hold their spring meeting at a private re treat in Englewood, Colo., this week, the issue of clergy sex abuse will occupy only a small part of the agenda.

Even as bishops try to focus on long-term church problems, however, they still face complaints they are not doing all they can to prevent clergy sex abuse and reconcile with past victims.

Most complaints center on how bishops are interpreting the "Dal las Charter," adopted in 2002, which established guidelines on handling abuse allegations. Critics contend the prelates too often fail to act as needed in the best interest of victims.

"What we're seeing with the charter is the same parsing of words and splitting of hairs that we've seen all along by bishops on the abuse issue," said David Clo hessy of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

Church leaders say the criticism merely reflects differing interpretations of the charter's language and that bishops remain committed to its intent. As a document, the Dal las Charter was groundbreaking. It said bishops would remove credibly accused priests from ministry, help heal victims, and train church employees and volunteers to recognize sex abuse.

The document also required each bishop to start a review board to investigate abuse claims. Victims and a lawyer in New Jersey have criticized procedures of the Paterson Diocese review board, saying its hearings are often intimidating because alleged victims are not allowed to interact with board members.

"Every single person who goes before a review board, whether it's the accused or whether it's an al leged victim, is extremely nervous," said Greg Gianforcaro, lawyer for several alleged victims in New Jersey. "There has to be questions that not only are probative, but also there have to be questions that will make that person who's very nervous less nervous."

The charter does not spell out review board procedures, but Gian forcaro contrasted hearings in Paterson to those in the Newark archdiocese, which he said were more sensitively run.

"In all of the cases I have gone before the Newark archdiocese's review board with clients, I have found them to be extremely compassionate, attentive and thorough in questioning my clients," he said.

Paterson diocese officials said they considered questioning accusers when devising rules, but did not want them to feel threatened.

"The sense was, if we got into questioning people, that could come across as cross-examining people," said Msgr. Herbert Tillyer, the Paterson diocese's vicar general and second-highest-ranking clergyman. "In front of a large group, that could be very intimidating."

The issue of "pastoral outreach" wherever abuse occurred, promised in the Dallas Charter, also has caused disagreement.

Buddy Cotton, who heads SNAP's New Jersey chapter, said Newark Archbishop John Myers has violated the charter's provision to direct "pastoral outreach" at St. John the Apostle in Linden.

Two priests, against whom prosecutors deemed accusations credible last summer, worked at the church. Neither priest, Joseph Rice or Edward Eilert, remains in ministry.

Cotton has repeatedly asked the archdiocese to hold a meeting at the church to see if anyone else there complains about the priests.

But Jim Goodness, spokesman for the Newark archdiocese, said the archdiocese is waiting until the case is closed, and defended its efforts, including bulletin notes asking victims to come forward.

Clohessy said most dioceses in the country are failing at outreach.

"It's more like they're passively sitting by the phone waiting for a survivor to call rather than going out and looking for the lost sheep," he said. "Each bishop should go to a parish where a known or sus pected abuser worked and beg witnesses and victims to contact the police."


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