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Sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy

Church reaction: 2002-AUG to now

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News items:

bullet 2002-SEP-16: USA: Roman Catholic review panel to identify non-compliant U.S. bishops: Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating heads up the church-appointed National Review Board whose mandate is to review each of the Roman Catholic dioceses in the U.S. to check their compliance with the clerical sex abuse policy established in June by the bishops. Keating indicated that most dioceses are implementing the plan properly. However, the committee will shortly reveal the names of bishops who are failing to comply. According to the victims' advocacy group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), 13 of the nation's 195 dioceses have failed to comply with the new policy. 10

bullet 2002-OCT-18: Vatican: Vatican rejects Bishop's plan: The Vatican withheld its "recognito" (approval) of the the plan by the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops to reduce abusive ephebophilia and pedophilia by the American clergy. The Vatican's main concern is that some priests may be punished due to "credible" allegations of abuse, before any wrongdoing is proven. The Vatican believes that the Bishops' "norms" do not respect due process as described in Canon Law. A U.S. - Vatican commission will probably be created to resolve outstanding issues. 2

bullet 2002-NOV-4: USA: Modifications to sex abuse policy released: As a result of discussions with the Vatican, a modified sex abuse draft has been written. U.S. bishops will vote on the new version during their NOV-11 to 14 meeting in Washington. The text will then go to the Vatican for final review. If approved, the policy will be binding on all bishops and dioceses in the U.S. Changes include:

bullet Bishops will now conduct initial investigations in private.

bullet If the abuse complaint is credible, the bishop will only report the case to authorities if required by state law.

bullet The victim(s) are no longer required to be informed about progress in their case.

bullet Church tribunals will hear cases in which clerics maintain their innocence.

bullet The review board will no longer be required to regularly review each bishop's abuse policy.

Response was mixed:
bullet Rev. Robert J. Silva is president of the National Federation of Priests' Councils. It represents 27,000 of the nation's 46,000 clergy. He said: "it is a good, strong and, I think, effective policy that protects our children but also is clear about due process and rights for those who are the accused."

bullet David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said the changes "will enable abusive priests to remain in ministry, and unidentified, longer."

bullet Susan Archibald, president of The Linkup, a victims' lobby, said the text is "a return to secrecy [which] perpetuated and fostered the abuse." 3

The old and new texts are posted on the internet so that they can be easily compared. 4

bullet 2002-NOV-7: USA: Bishops select clergy abuse monitor: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops selected Kathleen McChesney to hold the new church post of director of the Office for Child and Youth Protection. She currently holds the post within the FBI as executive assistant director for law enforcement services. Her task has been to improve the relationship between federal and local law enforcement. The Rev. Robert J. Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests' Councils, commented: "I hope that she will be able to balance that aggressive investigative side with a sense of church discipleship and the mission of reconciliation." 5

bullet 2002-NOV-13: USA: Revised policy on sex abuse accepted: By a vote of 246 to 7, with six abstentions, bishops voted to approve a new plan which satisfies Vatican concerns about the rights of accused priests. Under the new regulations, priests will be assured of due process. When a molestation claim is made, a bishop will be able to conduct a confidential, preliminary inquiry to determine whether it is plausible. If it is, the priest is to be put on leave and must appear before a clerical tribunal. Barbara Blaine, president of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) was critical of the policy. She said: "The gulf between bishops and the victims and lay people in the church has grown wider by the vote today." 6

bullet 2002-DEC-4: MA: Boston Archdiocese may declare bankruptcy: According to Best's Insurance News, "A recent proposal by the Boston Archdiocese to seek bankruptcy protection as a way to limit payments in the ongoing sexual abuse scandal will drag insurers along with the church into bankruptcy court. On DEC 4, the finance council of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston voted to allow the archdiocese to 'pursue reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code, if the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston ultimately deems such action necessary to ensure an expeditious and equitable global settlement for the victims of sexual abuse by priests of the archdiocese,' the archdiocese said in a statement." The Vatican would have to pre-approve such a declaration. Four insurance companies, Kemper, Travelers, U.S. Fire & Marine, and Gulf Insurance, and over 220 plaintiffs are involved. The insurance companies are speculating that because of the Archdiocese's cover-up policies at the time that the policies were taken out, that the companies might not have been adequately informed of the potential risks at the time. The policies may not be fully valid. 7

bullet 2002-DEC-13: MA: Cardinal Law resigned: Cardinal Bernard F. Law resigned as archbishop of Boston. His resignation was prompted in part by a letter requesting this action by 58 priests out of the approximately 560 priests in the archdiocese. He has temporarily been replaced by Bishop Richard G. Lennon, the rector of the archdiocese's principal seminary. Cardinal Law said: "I am profoundly grateful to the Holy Father for having accepted my resignation as archbishop of Boston. It is my fervent prayer that this action may help the archdiocese of Boston to experience the healing, reconciliation and unity which are so desperately needed. To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes, I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness." 8

bullet 2002-DEC-14: Vatican: Cardinal Ratzinger accuses U.S. media of distortion: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,  the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told journalists: "I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offences among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower... In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than 1% of priests are guilty of acts of this type...The constant presence of these news items does not correspond to the objectivity of the information nor to the statistical objectivity of the facts. Therefore, one comes to the conclusion that it is intentional, manipulated, that there is a desire to discredit the Church. It is a logical and well-founded conclusion." 9

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bullet 2004-NOV-25: WA: Spokane diocese plans to file for bankruptcy: Earlier in November, the Spokane Diocese announced that it plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Bishop William Skylstad said that the Roman Catholic diocese was facing a number of pending and potential lawsuits that would cost more than it could afford. Five insurance companies filed a lawsuit on NOV-23 saying that they should not have to pay the diocese because copies of some insurance policies could not be found and because church officials had been aware of warnings against the abusive priests but didn't stop them. The lawsuit said that: "The diocese made conscious decisions not to protect children." It alleges that "O'Donnell's continuing abuse of children and their injury were natural consequences of the Diocese's conscious and intentional decision to leave O'Donnell in a position with unrestricted access to, and contact with, children." It focused mainly on Rev. Patrick O'Donnell, who served as a priest in Spokane from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s. He has allegedly admitted in a deposition that he abused 30 or more boys while a priest. 10

bullet 2005-APR-09: Members of advocacy group to protest Cardinal Bernard Law's mass: Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) objects to Cardinal Bernard Law's scheduled mass on APR-11. Law allegedly move priests accused of sexual abuse of children from parish to parish in Massachusetts without disclosing allegations against them. SNAP suggests that Law should not be permitted to lead one of the nine daily Masses. Blain said: "It's like rubbing salt into the wounds of the victims." A group of SNAP members are traveling to Rome where they plan to distribute pamphlets outside of the basilica and meet with U.S. cardinals. Blaine said that the sex abuse issue "has to be confronted, and it hasn't been from our perspective. It's been swept under the rug. Far too many perpetrators remain in ministry. The church needs the voice of the victims to sanctify itself." 11

bullet 2005-JUN-16: U.S. Conference of Bishops are scheduled to meet: The Bishops will meet from JUN-16 to 18 in Chicago. Their main task is the finalization of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" which the issued in draft form in 2002. They will also decide whether to allocate as much as one million dollars on a study of the causes of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. ReligionLink suggests that: "...several other recent developments also could influence the crisis and the Catholic priesthood. Most prominent is Pope Benedict XVI's election and the selection of an American archbishop to succeed him at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Other elements...include an expected Vatican review of American seminaries, a possible Vatican document on homosexuals in the priesthood, the oversight of local diocesan abuse policies and the continuing legal and financial troubles in many U.S. dioceses."

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References used:

  1. "Panel to identify noncompliant bishops," Associated Press, 2002-SEP-16, at: http://www.newsok.com/cgi-bin/

  2. Philip Pullella, "Vatican Won't Bless U.S. Bishops' Pedophilia Plan," 2002-OCT-17, at: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news

  3. Richard Ostling, "New Church Sex-Abuse Draft Released," Associated Press, 2002-NOV-4, at: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news

  4. "Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons: Comparative Text," United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at:  http://www.usccb.org/comm/compare.htm

  5. Richard Ostling, "Bishops to Name Clergy Abuse Monitor," Associated Press, 2002-NOV-8, at: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?

  6. Richard Ostling, "U.S. bishops set policy on sex abuse; Vatican demanded protection for priests," Associated Press, 2002-NOV-13.

  7. John Hillman, "Boston Archdiocese Considers Bankruptcy, Dragging Insurers Toward Court," Best's Insurance News, 2002-DEC-5.

  8. Peter Popham, "US cardinal resigns over abuse scandal," 2002-DEC-14, at: http://news.independent.co.uk/world/

  9. "Ratzinger sees media vendetta against Church," Catholic News (Australia), 2002-DEC-5.

  10. Janet Tu, "5 insurers sue Spokane diocese over settlements," The Seattle Times, 2004-NOV-25.

  11. "Protests planned for controversial cardinal's Mass. Former archbishop of Boston resigned in abuse scandal," CNN News, 2005-APR-09, at: http://www.cnn.com/

  12. "Clergy abuse update: The Catholic Church faces new steps in dealing with scandal," ReligionLink.org, 2005-MAY-31, at: http://www.religionlink.org/

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Copyright © 2002 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-MAR-25
Latest update: 2011-SEP-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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