Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Tristate reaction mixed on bishops' abuse proposal




By Steve Eder, seder@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Lifelong Catholic Teresa Steinmetz says a proposal by a U.S. bishops panel Tuesday to defrock priests who have sexually abused multiple children should have been made policy long ago.

        American bishops will meet in Dallas next week to discuss policy changes that could affect past and future sexual abusers. A draft of possible policy changes also recommends that bishops ask the Vatican to remove any priest who sexually abuses a child in the future.

        “You have to consider that when John Doe off the street molests a child, he gets prosecuted,” said Ms. Steinmetz, 38, of Fairfield, a mother of four. “I don't think being a person of the cloth makes you any different from that person.”

        In the draft, the bishops also are calling for all instances of abuse in the future to be reported to civil authorities and to issue an apology for mishandling past abuses. Clergymen who molested a child once in the past could continue serving a parish under certain conditions, such as if they undergo counseling and agree to public disclosure of their misconduct, the bishops said in the proposed national policy.

        The Rev. Albert Lauer of Old St. Mary's Church in Cincinnati said the proposal would create a standard that is nearly “zero tolerance.” The proposal wouldn't cause a major policy shift for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati because it implemented child protection policies nearly a decade ago, Father Lauer said.

        The archdiocese chose not to comment on the policy draft, pending next week's meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Father Lauer said the move by the bishops is a “step in the right direction.

        “It makes it real clear that, from now on, there is no possibility of repeat problems,” he said. “It would be nice to say there will never be a problem in the future; but with human beings, that isn't the case.”

        With intense concern over the issue growing nationally, said Rhys Williams, a sociology professor at the University of Cincinnati, the bishops must make a strong statement.

        “Issues of child abuse and child sexual abuse have become front and center,” said Dr. Williams, whose expertise is American religion. “They have assumed enormous proportions, and that is not as true in other cultures. I am not convinced that the pope himself quite understands how huge an issue this is for the Catholic Church in America.”

        With public opinion wavering, Dr. Williams says it may trouble observers that the proposal addresses only those priests with multiple abuses and future abusers.

        Some Catholics, such as Dolores Mueller of Madeira, say there shouldn't be any second chances for priests who have sexually abused minors.

        “I don't think it is fair; it should be one, then out,” said Ms. Mueller, who is in her 70s. “It is the children that are hurting.”

        “(Abusers) should be going to jail because there is no cure for this,” she said.

        A former priest, George Dettenwanger, 60, of Fairfield, said seminaries need to design better testing methods to root out potential abusers, in addition to taking broad action against priests who have abused.

        “It is about time they got serious about it,” he said.

       



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