Thursday, November 14, 2002

U.S. bishops failed to put kids first



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Even though I am not a member of the flock, the more I read about the changes America's Roman Catholic bishops made to their rules for dealing with priests who molest children, the angrier I get.

The bishops missed a golden opportunity Wednesday in Washington. They could have healed a deep, dark wound on the body of the church.

But they lacked the healing touch.

The bishops voted to revise - but not toughen - the document titled "Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons."

Sadly, the bishops lost a chance to make things right with God, with their parishioners and with the laws of the land.

Follow the law

Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk has said the revised policy can still get rid of abusive priests. That may be.

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Click here for all Enquirer reports on accusations or actions against local priests.
Four of the revised document's 13 points or "norms" deal with the removal of offending clergy.

The revised policy may indeed get what Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill., has called, "this plague, this horror," out of the pulpit and out of the church.

But, I doubt the new rules go far enough in getting these child molesters off the street and in jail.

Only one revised norm deals directly with going to the cops or other civil authorities to report allegations of minors being sexually abused by priests.

Nowhere do the reforms specifically call for taking legal action against church officials responsible for aiding and abetting these crimes against innocent children.

One revised norm does note that priests with a history of sexual abuse may not be sent to preach at another parish.

And, before a priest is transferred, his old bosses must forward, "in a confidential manner," to his new superiors any information about sexual abuse of a minor.

There's no mention of dealing - either internally or through the legal system - with church officials who made such transfers or failed to mention such problems in the past.

Second opinion

As a casual Methodist, I may be a bit too judgmental about this.

To compare notes, I spoke by phone with David Clohessy. He's the national director of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests.

Before he left his Washington hotel room to monitor the bishops' conference, I asked him if the revised norms have enough teeth to put evil priests behind bars.

"No," he answered, adding that he's not surprised.

For a decade, he has asked the bishops: "Come with us to the statehouse. Get the statute of limitations extended so these guys can be locked up. That way kids are safe. Victims feel better. The bishops are off the hook. Everybody benefits."

His offer has had no takers.

The church has even reinstated its own statute of limitations. Unless the Vatican grants a waiver, alleged victims have until their 28th birthday to make their allegations.

David feels that will "deter victims from coming forward. Anything that prevents victims from coming forward leaves kids at risk."

Safeguarding kids should be the bishops' prime mission.

The norms should not have been revised to protect bad priests. Or the church's image.

These rules should have been revised only for the sake of clarity and kids' safety.

The bishops could have delivered the message that when priests betray their sacred trust and prey on children, they must pay the price for breaking the laws. Of God. The church. And society.

Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail: cradel@enquirer.com.



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