Group works to prevent cleric abuse

By Jerry Thornton
Chicago Tribune
November 4, 1991

A group formed to provide support for victims and the families of those who have been sexually abused by clerics outlined an agenda Sunday that includes preparing a guide for parents and compiling information nationwide on known child abusers in the clergy.

The information network is designed to prevent priests with a history of abuse from being transferred from one parish to another without the knowledge of the new parishioners.

Plans for the network come in the wake of recent turmoil at Berwyn's St. Odilo Catholic Church, where a priest was transferred after being accused of sexual abuse.

The group also is urging parishioners to donate to children's groups on the Sunday after Thanksgiving instead of to their church. The moratorium is designed as a signal to church officials that parishioners consider the problem serious.

Members of the group, Victims of Clergy Abuse Linkup, or VOCAL, repeatedly criticized the Catholic Church on Sunday night for being unresponsive.

"They (church officials) need to remove (abusive) priests from a position of ministry so they can no longer abuse anyone," said Barbara Blaine, 35, a member of VOCAL who said she was abused 22 years ago. "If a priest wants to stay in the ministry, then he should be placed in a monastery."

The Chicago archdiocese has been criticized for permitting the transfer of Rev. Robert E. Mayer to St. Odilo 10 months ago. Congregation members learned in mid-October that a 20-year-old member of the church accused him of sexual misconduct in July. They also learned that Berwyn police were investigating charges that he sexually abused a 14-year-old girl.

Mayer has a history of sexual abuse charges, but it came to light only as the more recent charges surfaced. The president of VOCAL, Jeanne Miller, sued Mayer in 1982 after he allegedly exposed himself to a group of boys, including her son, while he was an associate pastor at an Arlington Heights church. That lawsuit eventually was settled, and no criminal charges were filed.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin has apologized to parishioners of St. Odilo for approving the hiring of Mayer, who has left St. Odilo. The archdiocese also appointed a three-member panel to examine how priests are investigated and treated when charged with sexual abuse and whether they should be permitted to remain in parish ministry.

About 10 members of VOCAL met Sunday night in Miller's home in Palatine. Many also are members of similar support groups. Blaine is involved with the Survival Network for Those Sexually Abused by Priests, which has counseled more than 200 people it formed about a year ago, she said.

As VOCAL expands, it plans to include all denominations. Members attending the meeting said they have learned that such abuse is not limited to the Catholic Church.


















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