We’re here today to urge America's Catholic bishops - who are meeting now in Atlanta - to totally scrap and revamp their ten year old child sex abuse policy. We’re asking them to commit to an inclusive, one year planning process with public hearings and "real input," and reform and broaden this policy. And we are prodding them to adopt a key, missing component - tough penalties for church officials who ignore, conceal and enable child sex crimes.
Finally, we are also urging the prelates to denounce two bishops - one in California and one in Kentucky -for their “complicity” and “violations” in clergy sex cases that arose just last week.
In 2002, in the midst of stunning revelations of child sex crimes by priests and repeated cover ups by bishops, America’s Catholic hierarchy adopted a “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” It was a belated and begrudging and hasty effort, we believe, that resulted in a weak, vague set of pledges that are often violated, especially since there are virtually no incentives to follow the policies and no punishments for breaking them.
Over the past decade, this policy has repeatedly been weakened – instead of strengthened. The same has happened with the “National Review Board” that was set up to allegedly oversee implementation – it’s become weaker, not stronger. (see these links: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/resources/resource-files/churchdocs/MixedChanges.htm, http://www.bishop-accountability.org/resources/resource-files/churchdocs/ComparativeText.htm)
As a result, many bishops have backpedalled tremendously. And why wouldn’t they? Tragically, virtually no prelate who ignores, minimizes, conceals or enables child sex crimes is ever penalized. And many church wrongdoers, especially bishops, have subsequently been promoted. (For example, two complicit Philly priests, Cistone and Cullen, helped cover up for pedophile priests there, yet were elevated to bishop.)
So we want America’s bishops to scrap their sporadically followed sex abuse procedures and spend the next year radically revamping them after public hearings and real grassroots input.
And in the short term, we’re urging the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to denounce two bishops for alleged complicity in two clergy sex cases that arose just last week. We want the prelates to publicly censure church officials in
--San Diego CA, where Bishop Robert Brom quietly put Fr. Jose Davila back into a parish in May, despite the fact that he pled guilty in April to battery and “unlawful touching an intimate part” of a 19 year old girl’s body.
--Owensboro KY, where Bishop William Medley and his predecessor kept silent for 18 years about child sex abuse allegations against Fr. Louis Francis Piskula who was just charged with child sexual abuse but who was secretly suspended in 1994 for similar allegations.
The first case violates the bishops’ policy call for “zero tolerance” of abuse. The second case violates the bishops’ policy requirement that church officials be “open and transparent” in clergy sex abuse cases.
Among their other promises in 2002, bishops pledged to “fraternally correct” their colleagues who violated their policy and endangered kids and protected pedophiles. That’s almost never happened. It should happen now with Brom and Medley.
Also remember that throughout the on-going crisis, many bishops have claimed they “didn’t really understand abuse” and have, since 2002, been "learning more" about it. If that’s the case, their policies should have been broadened and improved – not watered down – over the past decade. And those policies should be further broadened and improved now (especially in the wake of such stunning cases of corruption like those recently unearthed in Kansas City and Philadelphia).
Besides no incentives for compliance or penalties for non-compliance, we in SNAP believe that the charter has three basic flaws:
1) Ninety five percent of it focuses on lay people, who aren't -- and have never been - the real problem,
2) The policy has huge gaps (parishioners get no training, for instance, on how to respond to allegations in ways that don’t intimidate victims) and,
3) Review boards which allegedly oversee compliance are handpicked by bishops and get inaccurate and incomplete information from church officials.
Among other reforms, we in SNAP recommend changing the policy to require that bishops will be kicked out of the USCCB for violating it. And we feel that review board members should be required to
1) meet directly with each victim, and
2) sign a pledge to resign and “blow the whistle” when church officials endanger kids.
Finally, we also want bishops to pick two review board members, then let those two select the board’s other five or six members (to reduce the bishops’ power over appointees).
Annette Nestler-SNAP Southern New Jersey
I can see in my own parish, the masses are hungry for these changes. People are completely disgusted by what is unfolding in the media with the RCC hierarchy and now Sandusky trials.