- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

When America's Roman Catholic bishops decided any priest guilty of molesting a youth should be ousted from active ministry, they left a major loose end hanging: what to do with those priests.
During the June meeting where they approved a toughened clerical sex-abuse policy, bishops remarked that erring priests could be assigned to live in special "houses of confinement" or monasteries.
However, both ideas are problematic. The few "houses" in existence can take only a handful of men, and religious orders say monasteries are simply off-limits.
The Rev. J. Cletus Kiley, the abuse specialist for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said there have been only "some preliminary conversations" about assignments for such priests, but "it is a challenge, and it's one of the things we have to face."
One problem, he says, is nobody knows how many men may need special housing.
About 300 of the roughly 46,000 U.S. priests have resigned or been taken off duty this year over abuse accusations, including at least 50 since the Dallas meeting. What happens next to those men now falls into three categories:
An abuser can request "dismissal from the clerical state," commonly known as defrocking. Each case requires Vatican approval, but under the current circumstances bishops expect this will occur readily. Because this is the simplest solution, bishops hope many molesters will leave voluntarily.
The bishop can dismiss an abuser from the priesthood without his consent. That leads to cumbersome procedures involving American and Vatican church tribunals. Since 1989, the U.S. bishops have wanted Vatican permission for a streamlined administrative process and may revisit this topic at their Nov. 11-14 meeting in Washington.
A molester can be barred from functioning as a priest without dismissal from the priesthood. The June policy says this will apply especially "for reasons of advanced age or infirmity," and such men will lead "a life of prayer and penance."
With either voluntary or involuntary dismissal, a man "no longer has any priestly obligations to the church or the church toward him," says Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, spokesman for the bishops' conference. But those in the final category are still priests, and therefore are the church's responsibility.
Religious orders have insisted that monasteries cannot serve as dumping grounds.
The Rev. Canice Connors of Rensselaer, N.Y., president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, explains that a man needs a vocation and the right personal characteristics to live in a monastic community, and "a vocation doesn't come from being an offender."
"Monasteries simply won't be open to such things," he said.
The other option involves special long-term residences sometimes called "houses of confinement" for those who are, as Father Kiley puts it, "removed permanently from ministry" and yet want "in some way to live their life out as priests."
The major superiors will discuss the need for such institutions during their annual meeting in Philadelphia this week.
The best-known example of long-term housing, Father Kiley says, is provided by the Servants of the Paraclete at Jemez Springs, N.M., an order founded in 1947 to help priests in trouble.
Jay R. Feierman, a psychiatrist who started working at Jemez Springs in 1976, said the facility "used to be called an ecclesiastical jail because it was the end of the road for priests who had serious problems," usually alcoholism.
But bishops and religious superiors returned many patients to active ministry against the advice of therapists, Mr. Feierman said. After a spate of lawsuits, the Paracletes shut down the program in 1996.
The Paracletes run two houses elsewhere, but they provide for only 10 men or so, which hardly begins to meet the likely demand.

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