success stories

Bishops start dealing with new rules on sex-abusing priests

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

Within days of their historic June 13-15 meeting on clerical sex abuse of minors, some U.S. bishops began implementing the new national charter they established in Dallas.

Several priests with past records of abuse who had been restored to ministry or church-related office jobs following treatment were removed from those posts, including eight in Chicago. Some retired priests were informed they could no longer wear clerical garb, present themselves as priests or say Mass publicly.

Bishops held planning meetings with diocesan staff and issued statements or spoke with reporters about what would be done locally to carry out the Dallas decisions.

There were new criminal and civil actions against priests accused of sexual abuse, and attorneys on both sides of civil cases in the Boston Archdiocese agreed to try to reach an out-of-court settlement that could cover up to 275 cases.

In Boston, the starting point last January of the clergy sex abuse scandal that erupted into a national crisis, alleged victims and their advocates marched June 23 from Boston Common to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, carrying signs with childhood pictures of about 75 alleged abuse victims. They joined about 100 other protesters outside the cathedral.

The core group of the U.S. bishops' new National Review Board overseeing implementation of the new national policy held its first meeting June 20-21 in Oklahoma City under the chairmanship of Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating.

Along with Washington lawyer Robert S. Bennett and Illinois Appellate Court Justice Anne M. Burke, who were named to the board along with Keating June 14, the core group added a fourth member, Michael J. Bland, clinical-pastoral coordinator of the Chicago archdiocesan Office of Assistance Ministry and himself a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest when he was a minor.

A news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the full board should be named by mid-July. It said the core group discussed review board procedures, the structure of the planned USCCB Office of Child and Youth Protection, which the board will oversee, and a job description for the office's director.

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago announced the removal of eight priests from all priestly ministry June 23 because of credible accusations against them in the past. Three of them were pastors, one an associate pastor, one a hospital chaplain, two working in administrative jobs and one a 72-year-old retiree who was assisting with weekend Masses.

Cardinal George said five of the priests plan to appeal their removal, while two plan to resign from the priesthood. The retired priest will no longer be able to celebrate Mass publicly or present himself as a priest.

Concerning the priests who plan to contest their removal, archdiocesan Chancellor Jimmy Lago said, "Due process is necessary to honor the personal rights of all concerned."

In Minnesota:

-- The St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese removed three priests, two from administrative jobs and one from a convent chaplaincy.

-- A spokesman for the Crookston Diocese, in the northwest corner of the state, said three retired priests long ago restricted from ministry -- including one who uses a wheelchair and one who is bedridden -- have been notified that they can no longer present themselves as priests.

-- The St. Cloud Diocese gave notice to three priests, one retired and two who held administrative jobs.

-- Abbot John Klassen told the Benedictine monks of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville June 19 that the abbey will follow the bishops' policy and go a step further: If a monk has sexually abused someone, he will be removed from ministry even if the victim was an adult. The abbey has 14 monks who live under restrictions because of past abuse of children or young people.

In Evansville, Ind., Father Michael Allen was removed as pastor of St. Peter Parish in Celestine. Father Allen, who sexually abused a teen-ager in 1976, had received national news coverage before the bishops' meeting as an example of a former offender who repented and converted and was loved by his parishioners.

In Louisville, Ky., Father Joseph Stoltz, who had been treated in 1991 following the revelation of a child abuse incident in the 1970s, was removed from St. William Parish.

Louisville Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly June 20 named the first members of a new advisory board to handle allegations of sexual abuse and announced that victims of such abuse by priests will be offered free counseling through the University of Louisville.

Father Thomas R. Malia was asked to resign as pastor of two Baltimore parishes when it was learned that he had hired Robert Gee in 1999 as interim music director of one of the parishes, knowing that Gee had been convicted of sexual abuse of a teen-ager two years earlier. A diocesan spokesman said the priest likely would be assigned to another parish, but not as a pastor.

Diocesan officials in Scranton, Pa., indicated four priests would likely be removed from ministry. One recently resigned from a parish; the others were in limited ministry without contact with children.

In San Jose, Calif., Bishop Patrick J. McGrath permanently removed two priests from their posts June 21 and informed two retired priests with sexual abuse records that they will no longer be able to say Mass in public or identify themselves as priests.

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., met with diocesan department heads less than 48 hours after the Dallas meeting ended to outline responsibilities various departments will have in implementing the national charter within the diocese.

Cardinal Adam J. Maida of Detroit called a meeting of his priests June 24 to discuss the implications of the charter with them. Just three days earlier a diocesan spokesman said three priests previously cleared of sexual abuse allegations may be removed from their parishes as a result of the new zero-tolerance policy and new evidence uncovered in a two-month investigation by the Wayne County prosecutor's office. Two other priests in restricted ministries were removed because of past abuse.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles announced the establishment of a new 13-member archdiocesan review board to replace his current nine-member board. Among those named to the new board were a psychologist who was sexually abused as a child and the parents of an abuse victim.

In Augusta, Maine, Bishop Joseph J. Gerry of Portland and Auxiliary Bishop Michael R. Cote met for more than two hours June 20 with 10 alleged abuse survivors and heard their stories of being sexually abused by priests as children. Participants described it as an intense, emotional session.

The following day the Maine attorney general's office announced that it had completed its review of diocesan personnel files on 33 priests, none of whom is still active in ministry. The state office distributed case files to local prosecutors to determine if any could lead to criminal charges.

Union County, N.J., prosecutor Thomas Manahan said June 22 that the Newark Archdiocese had turned over the names of 10 priests, but all the cases appeared to him to be too old to prosecute under the state's statute of limitations.