Advocacy group urges changes to Catholic abuse review boards

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Roman Catholic diocese, who was recently appointed chairman-elect of the U.S. Catholic church’s national committee for protecting abuse victims, should lead an effort to change boards that review abuse allegations to make them more transparent, inclusive and willing to publicly identify predator priests, an advocacy group said Friday.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests sent a letter to Bishop James Johnston Jr., Friday criticizing the current methods of the review boards, which were mandated in dioceses across the country in 2002 after allegations of widespread sexual abuse by priests began to surface. Johnston was appointed last week as chairman-elect of the church’s Committee on Protection of Children and Young People, although he won’t become chairman for a year.

SNAP was reacting to an Associated Press report on Thursday that found the review boards repeatedly failed to support abuse victims and to oust abusive priests. Instead, review boards appointed by bishops and operating in secrecy often intimidate victims, reject sex abuse claims and help the church avoid payouts, the AP reported.

“In fact, we believe the flaws identified in the AP report are not accidental, isolated ‘mistakes’ or ‘oversights.’ You, your brother bishops and church lawyers are smart,” the letter said. “These panels, we believe are set up largely to help with public relations and legal defense. They are deliberately given little power or access to information. The goal is to give the appearance of change, rather than making actual change. Again, you can and must remedy this.”

The group suggested several changes, including requiring at least two abuse victims on each panel; making the board members’ names public; including at least two non-Catholics on each board; guaranteeing each victim gets to meet with a board; no lawyers representing the church as members; term limits for each board mem...

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