Victims' Distrust in the Church Persists

Nov 15, 2002 03:00 AM EST

WASHINGTON –– Despite the Roman Catholic bishops' endeavors to pursue order and redemption in the church, victims continue to hold strong distrust toward the Catholic Church. Amid the final vote on a policy to punish sex abusers found in the priesthood, by the American bishops, victims said no matter the outcome, they would continue to push for further reform in the church, and continue monitoring its performance.

At a new conference held Tuesday, one member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said, "We are ... looking ahead, not to tomorrow or next week, but to the next bishops' conference."

The group is taking an active role in ensuring that bishops play their part in enforcing the right policies and regulations in the church to guarantee safety for everyone. Members say they will keep pushing the bishops until they take proper courses of action and put a staunch end to the sex abuse.

While the bishops contend that the abuse policy they are moving toward and are to vote for on Wednesday, show a significant transformation in the church, victims are very skeptical.

Back in June, many of the bishops had together agreed to remove all molesters from within the church, and hold onto a tight commitment, said Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn. "It may be that people who are in such pain right now can't see that," Lori said. "It may take some time."

In order to resolve the issue, just five months ago bishops gathered and outlined a plan that sets the correct disciplinary action for offenders in the church. The revision of this plan, which is currently under the voting process with its outcome to be announced shortly; was run through the Vatican. It gives greater protection and privacy to the priests while authorities are given all opportunity last month.

Upon its approval, the policy will be sent back to the Vatican for one final review and then become a part of U.S. church law.

With the pending approval of the policy, bishops convened Tuesday night to discuss a new policy. Some prelates asked for clarification on the process for removing priests, said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit.

Chicago's Cardinal Francis George said a few bishops have suggested amendments to the policy but they are "very minor, some technical terms, nothing substantial has changed."

The Survivors Network and other victims' groups argued the new policy puts too much power into the hands of the bishops. The victims are particularly upset that the document includes no measures to sanction prelates who do not follow the policy.

"There are no accountability measures among senior members of the Roman Catholic Church," said Peter Isely, a Survivors Network member.

Bishop Joseph Galante, coadjutor of Dallas, said otherwise. The bishops this year formed the lay National Review Board and the Office for Child and Youth Protection to ensure the dioceses meet the new standards, argued Galante. At the start of next year, the office is to begin issuing annual prelates' compliance reports.

The bishops have also promised to notify civil authorities of any abuse cases involving children, regardless of the circumstances.

Throughout the bishops' meeting this week, victims have felt left out. Survivors Network complained that while at the Dallas gathering, they were allowed to have unlimited access and time with church leaders, they were unable to hold any meetings or discussions of any sort this week.

As Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops' conference dedicated a good portion of his opening address to bringing forth all damage the church has endured in lieu of the abuse crisis, critics pointed out that the bishops put the church before the victims.

"It's a fundamental, serious retreat," from the church's commitment to put victims first, said David Clohessy, the Survivors Network national director.

By Albert H. Lee
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