Reuters, Nov. 11, 2002
By DEBORAH ZABARENKO
WASHINGTON – The sexual abuse scandal that has tainted some 300 U.S. Roman Catholic priests has sown discord among bishops, priests and parishioners, the president of the national bishops’ conference said on Monday.
“This year, as we have sought to address the problem of sexual abuse in the church, we have experienced serious fractures between bishops and the faithful, as well as between bishops and priests,” Bishop Wilton Gregory told the opening session of the national meeting.
“We have also witnessed divisions among priests and among the faithful in determining the best way to respond to this tragedy,” Gregory said.
Even as the church battled discord within, Gregory said, it needed to protect against unspecified attackers “even among the baptized … who have chosen to exploit the vulnerability of the bishops in this moment to advance their own agendas.”
The four-day meeting has a full agenda — including a call for the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that recognized a woman’s right to abortion — but the question of how to handle priestly sexual abuse of children and young people was in the forefront.
The American bishops hammered out a policy on this question in June at a meeting in Dallas, but the Vatican rejected it and offered a revised version. The more than 400 bishops and cardinals gathered in Washington were set to vote on the Vatican’s version on Wednesday.
WHERE DOES RESPONSIBILITY LIE?
The language of the document is so complex that even experts in church law disagree on where final responsibility lies, though it appears to reside with the bishops.
This is a critical point, because some bishops are accused of knowingly shuttling sexually predatory priests from parish to parish without informing parishioners.
The scandal came to light in January; since then, some 300 Catholic priests have been dismissed amid accusations of sexual misconduct.
However, the U.S. church’s newly appointed sexual abuse watchdog, Kathleen McChesney, said she would make sure that priests who abuse children are reported to police.
“There will be reporting,” McChesney said on NBC’s “Today” program before the bishops’ meeting began. “This isn’t going to be done without this transparency. People have to know that these cases will be reported to the state law enforcement authorities.”
McChesney, a top-ranking FBI official who takes on her church job in December, added that she would prepare an annual report on church sexual abuse that will notify all parishioners of any bishops who do not comply with church policy.
She will preside over an annual budget of approximately $670,000 to enforce the policy.
Outside the meeting, members of the homosexual rights group Soulforce demonstrated against “spiritual violence” and the scapegoating of gay priests.
Later on Monday, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests planned a candlelight vigil and march to “urge church leaders to improve their handling of sex abuse cases.”