DIOCESE OF BIRMINGHAM AL
Diocese Found in Compliance with Abuse Rules
By Greg Garrison
The 90,000-member Catholic Diocese of Birmingham has been found in compliance
by auditors, but has been asked to complete background checks of all priests
and document which priests have had training in ensuring safe environments
for children. Birmingham was commended for establishing a policy on sexual
abuse in 1992, which was updated in 2002.
No new cases here
The report does not reveal any new sexual abuse cases in the Birmingham diocese.
Bishop David E. Foley, head of the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham, suspended a priest in 2002 who was accused by several men of sexually abusing them when they were teenagers in the early 1960s. The Rev. Charles V. Cross, a parish priest from 1960 to 1985, was stripped of his right to officiate at Catholic services publicly and agreed to retire.
The Rev. Kevin Cooke of Decatur had his faculties as a priest withdrawn in 2003 after an allegation that he inappropriately touched a woman more than 25 years ago.
In recent years, St. Bernard's Abbey in Cullman handled sexual abuse allegations against two priests accused of improper sexual contact with youth, one with a young man in 1961 and another with a young woman in 1971. Benedictine monks Roger Lott and Ignatius Kane, both in their 80s, have been kept under monastery supervision.
Savage said that since the Diocese of Birmingham was established in 1969, there have been four priests who had 11 sex-abuse allegations lodged against them, not counting members of religious orders such as the Benedictines, who are under their own jurisdiction. One case involving a diocesan priest involved a financial settlement with a victim of $45,000, Savage said.
Two accused priests were forced to retire before Foley became bishop in 1994. The Rev. Charles Bordenca, who had been accused of molesting a 12-year-old altar boy and retired in 1991, continued to fill in occasionally as a priest in the Archdiocese of Mobile until 2002, when Foley removed his priestly faculties as part of new, stricter standards.
Savage noted that another report commissioned by the bishops, expected to be released next month by the John Jay College of Justice, will analyze the number of cases of sexual abuse by priests nationwide. "It's going to focus on the extent of the problem," he said, chronicling the number of accusations, the number of priests accused and the amount of settlements in the past 50 years.
Critics Not Happy
Tuesday's report did not offer much to pacify harsh church critics.
"This one focused heavily on paperwork and procedures and policies," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a group with 4,600 members. "They're trying to look good on paper."
Clohessy said the audit dealt mostly with written complaint procedures and codes of conduct.
"Those are in our view are almost irrelevant," he said. "We're more interested in their deeds than their words."
The report showed that nearly all the 195 dioceses have taken steps to enact policies to safeguard children.
Clohessy said that's not enough. "No priest molested a child because he failed to read the diocese code of conduct," he said. "No parent kept silent because he or she didn't know what the complaint process was. A large portion of this report focuses on basic Business 101 practices, not on genuine compassion that bishops ought to be showing."
Clohessy said about 500 priests have been removed in the last year and a half because of sex abuse allegations.
"It does inch us a tiny bit towards the truth, which is good," Clohessy said. "It is being vastly mischaracterized and oversold."
From June through November, more than 50 investigators from the Gavin Group in Winthrop, Mass., mostly former law enforcement officers, visited every Catholic diocese in the country to do interviews and examine records and policies. Two Gavin representatives did the Birmingham audit from Sept. 22-25.
Savage said the report is not being presented as a cure-all.
"The audit at least begins a process where some national standards and expectations are set and there's some system of accountability," Savage said. "It definitely put this on the front-burner. It's a big step, not the last step."
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