Saturday, March 16, 2002

Covington diocese has written guidelines

By Cindy Schroeder,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Diocese of Covington relies on a 22-page document to clearly define what is sexual misconduct and what should happen to its priests who are accused of abuse.

        The policy was established in 1985 by then-Bishop William Hughes, and it was updated in 1995 and 2000.

        It defines what constitutes abuse, exploitation and harassment, and specifies how investigations of those allegations against diocese priests and other employees and volunteers should proceed, diocese spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said Friday.

        Since 1995, those who work for or volunteer in the diocese have had to undergo training on the policy. They must sign a document stating that they understand and will abide by the policy.

        The Covington Diocese does not require criminal background checks of its volunteers.

        The Covington Diocese was confronted with one of the most notable cases of priest sexual abuse a decade ago.

        The Rev. Earl Bierman, a Northern Kentucky priest, received a 20-year prison sentence in 1993 after pleading guilty to 25 molestation charges involving six adolescent boys in the 1960s and '70s.

        The incidents occurred while Father Bierman was a priest, counselor and teacher at Covington Latin School, Newport Catholic High School and St. Patrick School in Maysville.

        Church records later released for a civil trial showed that there were dozens more teen-age victims. The 71-year-old ex-priest is scheduled for release from the Kentucky State Reformatory at LaGrange in 2006.

        “What was particularly heinous about (the Bierman case) was the trust that the families of the victims put in their children's priest and teacher,” said Bob Scott, a former Kentucky State Police detective who handled the Bierman investigation.

        Former Covington Bishop Robert Muench was unavailable for comment Friday. He was installed Thursday as bishop of Baton Rouge.

        “For the immediate victim, who too often suffers in silence, the sense of betrayal and self-blame can be devastating, with a lifelong impact on countless relations,” reads the introduction to the Covington policy.

        “Deception corrupts and corrodes; exposure scandalizes. Both wound the faith life and well-being of the entire Church.”

        The policy states that it addresses the rights of the victims and the accused. It requires that church and Kentucky laws referring to sexual abuse be followed.

        Kentucky law states that anyone “who knows or has reasonable cause to believe that a child is dependent, neglected or abused shall immediately ... report (it)” to state or local authorities.

        However, another section of Kentucky law referred to in the policy states that “the clergy-penitent privilege” can be grounds for refusing to report a case involving a dependent, neglected or abused child.

        For example, a priest who would hear a confession by another priest would not be required to report it to authorities.

        The policy can be read on the Diocesan web site,

Related stories:
Prosecutors ask what church hid
Catholics have little sympathy for abuse
Pamphlet sets rules for prevention, response
Sex abuse cases not new locally


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