Sex-abuse Plan Draws Skepticism
want better warnings; priests fear false charges
Tuesday, October 01, 2002 - Catholic victim advocates charged
Monday that the amended sex-abuse policy released late last week by
the Denver archdiocese - like others emerging nationwide - falls short
in rooting out past transgressions and fostering openness for future
The policy also has come under spirited
discussion among local priests, some of whom say it doesn't sufficiently
address bishops' culpability or protection against false accusations.
The revised policy, distributed to clergy
and seminarians last week and available on the archdiocese website
- www.archden.org - integrates
zero tolerance for sex abuse of children and other provisions mandated
at the landmark Dallas conference of Catholic bishops in June.
But for Connie Ross, Colorado chapter
leader of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP),
one particular aspect hit home.
Ross says she was sexually abused as
a teen at a church retreat when she lived in Wisconsin. Yet even
under Denver's tougher policy, allegations of abuse against a priest
wouldn't be revealed to people at his previous assignments.
"That jumped out at me. They're
still not doing enough, (not) making that person known in the parishes
and institutions where they served in the past," Ross said.
"And if that's the case, there are still children out there
who can't receive support. It absolutely doesn't go far enough in
the past to publicize accusations."
National representatives of SNAP, who
pressured bishops for change in Dallas, remain unconvinced that
the new mandates will quell the scandal that has rocked the church
The most recent allegations first emerged
in Boston about abusive priests who moved from parish to parish
to conceal their actions and avoid controversy.
Critics cite inconsistent policies that
sometimes maintain a veil of secrecy - including the Denver archdiocese's
refusal to reveal the members of its response team, which reviews
allegations of abuse.
"It's precisely the way it was before
Dallas - bishops are all over the map," said David Clohessy,
the St. Louis-based executive director of SNAP. "Some name
a review board; some refuse to name the members. It's a huge issue.
How can survivors begin to feel comfortable disclosing their abuse
to a body when they don't even know who serves on it?"
Denver's response team consists of five
members, including three laypeople, in compliance with the Dallas
directives for a lay majority. Only the Rev. Tom Fryar, archdiocese
vicar for clergy, has been identified.
Other members are a priest who is also
a clinical psychologist and three lay Catholics - two women and
The panel reviews allegations and makes
recommendations to the archbishop. Under the zero-tolerance policy,
any confirmed act of abuse against a minor requires permanent removal
from the ministry.
So far, the Denver archdiocese has received
virtually no reaction from the laity, spokesman Fran Maier said.
"People need time to absorb it,
and there haven't been any cases to try it," he said. "The
experience we were going through in the opening months (of the scandal)
was generalized anger at the church for this problem, but not really
a local anger at specific incidents where the ball was dropped because
of this policy."
Although the policies are effective now,
official approval from the Vatican could take months.
Meanwhile, priests have weighed in.
The Rev. Pat Kennedy of Our Lady of Grace
parish in Denver said clergy have met three times to discuss the
new policy, and strong feelings emerged on several fronts.
"If I were to criticize the document
a little bit, I did not hear anything said about what happens to
bishops who've been flagrant about moving people around from place
to place," Kennedy said. "If I'm part of making that document,
I'm going to have to look at myself first before handing out penance
and punishment to anyone else."
He said many priests expressed concern
about protection from false accusations but seemed resigned to such
a stiff policy of removal at the first credible allegation.
"I don't know what else you could
do," Kennedy said. "Are we sufficiently protected? Some
things you can't be totally protected from anyway."
He said that concern over the scandal
has been minimal among members of the congregation in his north
"I'm in a very blue-collar parish,"
Kennedy said. "They're more concerned about making ends meet.
Money matters are of great concern. I've spoken frankly about it
in the parish and gotten a few remarks, mostly positive, from some
of the parishioners."
SNAP's Clohessy said that despite a concerted
public relations effort by the church during the Dallas conference
and since, policies today are not all that different.
"They're a little more thorough,
broader and sensitively written documents," he said. "But
they remain just that - written documents. We believe parents should
be cautious and not think everything's hunky-dory because there's
a new written document and it sure sounds swell."