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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

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December 13, 2004

Shepherds Finessing Their Flock

The scandal over sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy is still raging in the courts, yet the American bishops have made a wrongheaded decision to cut back their auditing of local dioceses' compliance with the church's new child protection measures. The bishops concluded that 90 percent of dioceses had been examined, found in compliance and can "self-report" next year. The auditors will focus on dioceses that are not carrying out the safeguards fully. This easing of scrutiny hardly jibes with pledges of ongoing accountability.

In the face of the dark universe of abuse by priests - more than 700 dismissed in three years for sexually abusing thousands of children - it was commendable that the bishops' conference enacted some firm remedies, including a one-strike-and-you're-defrocked policy toward abusers. But the laity is still waiting for an accounting of bishops' culpability in protecting predatory priests and paying hush money to contain complaints.

That the crisis is far from over is clear in California, where Bishop Tod Brown of the Orange County diocese recently agreed to a record $100 million damage settlement with 87 victims. Bishop Brown's welcome decision to release internal church documents as part of the agreement contrasts with the struggle in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where Cardinal Roger Mahony continues legalistic stonewalling of 500 abuse claims. His refusal to turn over priests' personnel files to prosecutors was criticized by the laity panel the bishops appointed to monitor their actions.

The panel warned last March that "there must be consequences" for bishops who led the years of cover-up. But the bishops still shy from investigating each other, says the panel's recently departed chairman, Robert Bennett. He said the church needs "what amount to SWAT teams to go out and rein in recalcitrant bishops and make them do what is good for the whole church."

The church cannot count this bleak chapter closed until it follows Mr. Bennett's wise advice.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests