Saturday, August 30, 2003

Covington bishop apologizes for abuse by 30 priests



By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ERLANGER - A sexual abuse policy released by the Diocese of Covington on Friday said there is "reasonable cause to believe" that 8 percent of its priests sexually abused one or more minors in the past 50 years.

The figure represents 30 out of 372 diocesan priests in those 50 years.

The diocese has received 158 allegations, 67 of which were against one priest. Nine of the 30 priests have died and four have been removed from the priesthood. The others have been removed from active ministry.

A 16-page report that was mailed to more than 27,000 households in the diocese lists phone numbers for legal resources and includes an apology from the bishop for past bad behavior of priests.

In an open letter to the 89,000 Roman Catholics in the 14-county Diocese of Covington, Bishop Roger Foys publicly apologized to anyone in the diocese who may have been abused by a priest as a minor.

"Too often, the response of the diocese to victims of child sexual abuse was inadequate,'' the bishop wrote.

"In the name of the Diocese of Covington, I apologize to you, ask your forgiveness and pray for reconciliation and healing.''

Foys, who was installed as the Diocese of Covington's 10th bishop in July 2002, wrote that he has met individually with sexual abuse victims to offer his apology and will continue to do so.

"I encourage anyone who was abused as a child by a priest or employee of this diocese to contact (victim assistance coordinator Margaret M.) Schack to schedule a private pastoral meeting with me,'' Foys wrote. "These meetings have been very valuable to me and, I hope, to the victims with whom I have met.''

As a result of the new policy, priests and others who work with children can expect criminal background checks. The policy encourages people to report abuse claims to police, prosecutors and the church.

"I think it addressed the problem pretty well,'' said Alexandria resident George Sederberg. The 69-year-old member of St. Mary's Church described himself as a lifelong Catholic.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, as far as a positive, I would say it's an 8,'' Sederberg said of the diocese's effort.

The policy is the Diocese of Covington's first formal response to the U.S. Catholic bishops' sexual abuse policy adopted in June 2002. The local diocese adopted a policy on sexual misconduct in 1985. It updated it 10 years later and again in 2000.

As the lead counsel in a Boone County lawsuit that accuses the Diocese of Covington of covering up sexual abuse over decades and encouraging an atmosphere in which sexual misconduct was tolerated, Cincinnati attorney Stan Chesley said the policy released Friday backs up his claims.

Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger is considering whether to make Chesley's lawsuit - which claims that at least 21 Diocese of Covington priests abused more than 150 people since the mid-1950s - a class action.

Chesley complimented the bishop for his forthright approach. However, he criticized any efforts to steer people with claims of sexual abuse to church employees for assistance.

"They have been pushing people to come to the church for counseling and I am opposed to that,'' Chesley said. "I want independent counseling so it's not subjective.''

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com




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