Archive for Friday, June 20, 2003

Catholic bishops agree on abuse reforms

June 20, 2003


— Roman Catholic bishops and members of a lay oversight board emerged from a closed-door session Thursday afternoon saying the church's reform plan remains on track.

Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Bennett, a National Review Board member, said at a news conference that three board members and the bishops had a "very honest and very cordial discussion" and that "the overwhelming number fully support the board's work."

"If we don't get cooperation, we'll name names," he added.

The hierarchy's president, Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., said the session helped bishops understand the board's work.

Tension has been created in recent weeks by the board's survey of the extent of abuse cases that is being conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Refusal by California's bishops to file questionnaires caused a flare-up between Cardinal Roger Mahony and review board chairman Frank Keating and led, in part, to Keating's Monday resignation.

But lawyers for the California bishops and John Jay staffers worked out a compromise, announced Thursday.

Review board member Paul McHugh, former psychiatry director at Johns Hopkins University, said the bishops' lawyers were worried about complying with California law on confidentiality and employee rights.

Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston, attends the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in St. Louis.

Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston, attends the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in St. Louis.

The solution, he said, was providing coded information to John Jay that met the needs of the survey.

Kathleen McChesney, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection on the bishops' staff, emerged from the session to say she and the board thought "the issues raised thus far have been sufficiently addressed and everyone is moving forward."

Once the questionnaires are filed, the next big project is an audit of all 195 dioceses by McChesney's office on whether they are complying with reforms the national hierarchy approved a year ago.

Earlier in the day Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said "what we promised to do a year ago, we've done," referring to reforms the bishops approved in June 2002.

The bishops promised to remove all abusers from the priesthood or from active ministry. "That's been done," George said.

Advocacy groups for victims and lay Catholics disagree, and made their case outside the bishops' assembly. Last year, victims got the chance to address the bishops, but this year they are not on the agenda.

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