Saturday, June 15, 2002

Archbishop says policy is tough


More awareness led to adoption

By Dan Horn, dhorn@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk says the Catholic church's new policy on sexual misconduct is tough and uncompromising when applied to abusive priests.

Pilarczyk
Pilarczyk
        “If you commit sex abuse, you're out,” the archbishop said.

        But he said the policy, adopted Friday by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, does not mean every form of sexual misconduct will automatically lead to a dismissal from the priesthood.

        The policy requires the bishops, along with an advisory panel, to determine on a case-by-case basis whether the misconduct rises to the level of “sexual abuse.” Less severe misconduct will likely result in less severe punishment.

        That distinction is especially important in Greater Cincinnati, where the archdiocese employs at least four unidentified priests who have committed past sexual misconduct.

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        Even under the tougher new policy, those priests may keep their jobs.

        “We have to see whether the offenses of the past constitute child abuse under (the new policy),” said Archbishop Pilarczyk, who attended the conference in Dallas and voted for the policy.

        “I think they are very much in the gray area,” he said of the four Cincinnati priests. “We are going to have to study the issue very carefully.”

        He said rape clearly would qualify as abuse, while some forms of touching — putting an arm around a child, for example — clearly would not.

        How the bishops will define everything between those two extremes remains open to question.

        Archbishop Pilarczyk said he is confident the bishops are up to the task. He said the 252 bishops — 13 of whom voted against the new policy — learned valuable lessons this week about sexual abuse and the damage it inflicts on victims.

        “We realized we have to get our acts together a little better,” Archbishop Pilarczyk said. “We all have to deal with these problems in the same way.”

        The conference was the first large-scale public gathering of American church leaders since sex scandals began erupting this year in parishes across the country.

        The meeting gave victims and frustrated Catholics a chance to voice their concerns and vent their anger.

        “We spent all day listening to victims,” Archbishop Pilarczyk said. “It was heart-rending.

        Asked if he and other bishops now feel a greater sense of responsibility for the abuse scandals, the archbishop said: “I would say I feel an increased and deepened sense of awareness.”

        He said the new policy is the product of that new-found awareness.

        “There was a lot of soul-searching,” the archbishop said. “The issue is a conflict of rights. ... Priests have rights, too. The question is which right prevails.

        “We agreed the safety of children prevails.”

        But some victims' advocacy groups complained Friday because the bishops did not adopt a so-called “zero-tolerance” policy, which would have forced anyone who committed sexual misconduct out of the priesthood.

        Under the policy adopted Friday, priests who abuse would be forced out of public ministry but not necessarily the priesthood. Some could remain as long as they do not have face-to-face contact with parishioners.

        Archbishop Pilarczyk said the new measures are significant and will prove in time to be effective.

        He said the impact in Cincinnati may not be as great as in other dioceses because Cincinnati already has a comprehensive Child Protection Decree in place.

        The decree, adopted nearly 10 years ago, outlines inappropriate behaviors and the range of discipline that can be imposed on those who break the rules.

        The archbishop said he and other church officials will soon revise Cincinnati's decree to conform to the new national policy.

        Although he sees the new policy as a necessary step, the archbishop said he is confident that the safeguards needed to protect children have been in place for years in Cincinnati.

        “I am as convinced as human knowledge allows me to be that no child in the archdiocese is at risk,” Archbishop Pilarczyk said.

        As he prepared to leave the conference Friday, the archbishop said he was proud of the bishops' work in Dallas. The process was painful, he said, but the changes were needed.

        “I've never been so tired in my life,” he said. “Dealing with unpleasant realities is never pleasant.”

       



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