- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Ending a turbulent week marred by public disputes, the United States’ Roman Catholic bishops professed confidence yesterday that their reforms for dealing with clergy sex abuse are on track.

“My brother bishops and I remain committed to all we promised” in a reform plan approved a year ago, Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said at a news conference after the conclusion of the bishops’ semiannual meeting.

Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis, chairman of a committee handling the abuse crisis, said at the meeting that the hierarchy has made a “monumental effort” to apply the reforms, remove molesters from active ministry and restore confidence among priests and laity.

“Our commitment has not wavered,” Archbishop Flynn said.

The assurances cap a week that began with the chairman of the National Review Board, an independent lay board that monitors the bishops’ performance in following the reforms, accusing some of not cooperating, then quitting. Lobbies of lay Catholics and abuse victims, who also gathered in St. Louis during the bishops’ meeting, added to the criticism.

Two pivotal projects are under way: questionnaires bishops are supposed to file with the National Review Board detailing all abuse cases for a national report on the extent of the crisis, and an audit of the nation’s 195 dioceses to see whether they are complying with the reforms.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony led California’s bishops in refusing to file a report answering the questionnaire, saying it would violate the state’s privacy laws. However, the Californians announced Thursday that they would encrypt the report, removing any legal problem.

After Archbishop Flynn’s report yesterday, the bishops approved a motion by Cardinal Mahony asking Archbishop Flynn’s committee to commission a second survey in a year or two, once pending civil and criminal cases are completed.

“There are a lot of unresolved cases out there,” Cardinal Mahony said at an impromptu news conference.

The audit of the dioceses is to begin later this month.

Still, there was little confidence in the bishops among the 200 members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests attending their first national assembly across town.

“Who shall we count on? Three hundred men in black?” asked Mark Serrano, a network leader from Virginia. “Or shall we rely on ourselves and demand change from the civil authorities and rely on the people in the pews with children who must take the church back?”

Leaders of the network, which has been at the heart of the debate about clergy molesters in the past 18 months, said that a year after U.S. bishops approved reform policies to end the sex-abuse crisis, victims still find it hard to obtain meetings with the national bishops’ conference and local church leaders.

The bishops spent all day Friday behind closed doors discussing the idea of calling a special, nationwide church council, the first since 1884, to discuss church problems.

No decision about a “plenary council” will be made until a year from now, and Vatican approval would be needed. The council would take place years after that.

Archbishop Flynn’s report, also looking ahead, said his committee is working on coordinating abuse policy with leaders of the separate men’s religious orders, what to do with abusers who remain in the priesthood but are barred from active ministry and ongoing concerns of clergy about the bishops’ crackdown.

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