Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Policy rewrite months away

Sex abuse document scrutiny to start

By Cindy Schroeder, cschroeder@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It will take four or five months and the installation of the new bishop before the Diocese of Covington will complete any revision of its sexual misconduct policy.

        Prompted in part by recent lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by a former auxiliary bishop and former diocesan priests, the Diocese of Covington “will meet within the month” to start revising its 22-page policy on sexual misconduct, the diocesan chancellor said.

        On Friday, a 44-year-old former Diocesan groundskeeper claimed in a lawsuit that he was sexually abused in the 1970s by a now-deceased priest in Erlanger and in the 1980s by a Covington auxiliary bishop. That auxiliary bishop, the Rev. J. Kendrick Williams, became the bishop of Lexington in 1988. He resigned this month after similar allegations.

        The suit was preceded by a former Lexington altar boy's June 3 lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by the Rev. Bill Fedders, who served in Northern Kentucky parishes and schools in the 1970s and '80s. And on May 30, Lexington lawyer Robert Treadway filed a $50 million sex abuse lawsuit against the Lexington and Covington dioceses on behalf of four unnamed men and one unnamed woman who alleged they were sexually abused by priests under the two dioceses' control.

        In the latter case, the Covington Diocese is arguing that the statute of limitations for the lawsuit has passed, thus barring the class action.

        “We do plan to revise our policies and procedures for addressing sexual misconduct according to the bishops' charge,” said the Rev. Gerald Reinersman, chancellor of the Covington Diocese, which serves 89,000 Roman Catholics.

        “We have to get a new bishop installed first. Then we have to assemble our sexual misconduct committee and take a look at our policies and procedures and revise them in accordance with what the bishops adopted” at the recent U.S. Conference of Bishops.

        The Covington diocese will install Roger J. Foys as its new bishop July 15. Now a monsignor in Steubenville, Ohio, the bishop-elect replaces Robert Muench, who took over as bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, La., in March.

        “We're not going to be able to write policies and procedures at one meeting or even a couple of meetings,” Father Reinersman said. The current diocesan sexual misconduct policy was established in 1985 and has been revised twice.

        “We're going to be very deliberate about this. I would say within the next four to five months we should have our policies and procedures for addressing sexual misconduct revised and in alignment with national policies.”

        In their landmark meeting in Dallas nearly two weeks ago, the clerics, including Bishop-elect Foys, developed a sex abuse policy that gives rank-and-file Roman Catholics an unprecedented role in policing the church. The policy calls for advisory panels dominated by lay people to assess abuse claims.

        Still unknown is how much enforcement power the review boards would have and whether the Vatican will adopt key parts of the policy to make it church law in the United States.


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- Policy rewrite months away
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