Saturday, October 19, 2002

Pope rejects sex abuse policy

Bishops left without details

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Vatican's rejection of the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops' zero-tolerance sex-abuse policy proposal has left local church leaders waiting for more details before determining how it will affect them.

        For now, Tristate Catholic leaders say, few specifics have been handed down on the Vatican's call for revisions on due process and rehabilitation.

        The U.S. policy, forged in a landmark June meeting in Dallas, rejects second chances for offending priests, which conflicts with universal church law.

        “I've communicated with the archbishop, and neither he nor the attorneys have heard anything from the national bishops' office in Washington, D.C.,” Archdiocese of Cincinnati spokesman Dennis O'Connor said Friday. “They're probably mulling it over now.”

        Until then, he said, it would be difficult to know how the official position in Rome will affect local Catholics. He said that while the U.S. bishops influence local policy, “the authority rests with the Pope.”

        Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk would not comment Friday, Mr. O'Connor said.

        The Vatican said the sweeping U.S. policy proposal had provisions “difficult to reconcile” with church law, that were hard to interpret and left open procedural questions. But it also called for a joint U.S.-Vatican conference to pursue an agreement.

        In his first substantive policy statement since becoming bishop this summer, Diocese of Covington Bishop Roger Foys expressed optimism that a resolution can be reached.

        “I am encouraged that the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will work together,” he said in a written statement, “to arrive at a resolution leading to recognition by the Vatican of a charter to protect children and young people.”

        Bishop Foys took over in Covington in the midst of the national scandal, which began after revelations that dioceses elsewhere - including Boston - knew of priests' sex-abuse of children and covered it up.

        Bishop Foys took the place of Bishop Robert W. Muench, who was promoted to the Bishop of Baton Rouge, La., after a term in Covington marked by the successful renovation of the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.

        Bishop Foys attended the Dallas conference in the weeks just after his appointment.

        David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, said Friday he sees virtually no reason for optimism following the Vatican's announcement.

        “We think it's a huge blow,” he said from his home in the St. Louis area. “Clearly the Vatican's objection is with the heart and soul of the charter, the removal of abusive priests, and the greater involvement of laity. So from our perspective, we're basically right back where we started.”

        Both Cincinnati and Covington have acknowledged making financial settlements with sexual abuse victims from past years.

        The Archdiocese of Cincinnati plans to launch a child-abuse prevention program this year, part of its attempt to update church policies.

        The archdiocese will pay the Council on Child Abuse $50,000 over three years to provide educational programs for students, parents and teachers at its schools.

        The Covington diocese is named as a party in a $50 million class-action lawsuit filed in Fayette County, which makes allegations about the behavior of priests in the Lexington Diocese, which was formerly under Covington's jurisdiction.



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