- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

The U.S. Catholic bishops have decided to tackle the issue of sexual abuse by priests at their regular June business meeting, but church officials say debate on the church's celibacy requirement is unlikely.
A 50-bishop administrative council for the U.S. hierarchy on Friday affirmed their 1992 guidelines to fight the problem, but said a special panel will make more recommendations when all the bishops gather in Dallas in three months.
"We recognize our responsibility as bishops to address this problem more effectively," the council said in a statement.
It said the bishops will look at a "comprehensive response on the national level" to priests who sexually abuse minors.
The disclosure in January that the Archdiocese of Boston had moved around a pedophile priest now defrocked and sentenced to 10 years in prison sparked a national firestorm that dioceses are trying to reverse by disclosing and acting on charges going back 40 years.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. bishops' communications office said the June meeting will look at ways to improve policing and reporting the problem and the screening and recruitment of priests.
"The issue of celibacy shouldn't be related to the issue of sexual abuse and pedophilia," she said. "It confuses the issue to connect the two."
On Friday, an editorial in the Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese, said questions about a celibate male priesthood and homosexuality "are out there in the minds of Catholics."
The editorial prompted national speculation on whether the church would change its position, but Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law said there was no plan to question church doctrines, which the Vatican repeatedly has said are not up for reconsideration.
"We must realize that there is no panacea, that a married clergy presents its own distinctive problems and liabilities," the editorial said.
Stephen J. Brady of Roman Catholic Faithful, which states its mission as "fighting corruption within the Catholic hierarchy," said the bishops in June should tackle their own "complicity and silence" in the abuse problem and oust bishops who have been accused.
Last week, the Vatican accepted the resignation of Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, 63, of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., after reports of his apparent sexual misconduct 25 years ago with a seminarian in Missouri.
"No bishop has come out and condemned this in their own membership," Mr. Brady said. "They should ask every fellow bishop to declare all the abuse cases and settlements in their dioceses, and allow victims [silenced by legal agreements] to speak publicly."
In June, the bishops may also take heart in cases where the worst in a diocese has passed and the church has flourished, such as in the Diocese of Lafayette, La.
"We were the first," Monsignor H.A. Larroque, chancellor of the diocese, said of the 1983 prosecution of a pedophile priest there. "You can't rate the hurt that people felt," he said.
Still, in June, Lafayette Diocese will ordain five men into the priesthood and has recoved from its millions of dollars in lawsuits.
"The life of the church was not affected," Monsignor Larroque said, crediting the bishop's no-tolerance approach in the early 1980s. "Nothing was closed and the contributions of the people in the diocese have gone up."
Some church leaders also point to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, which has recovered from more than $50 million in lawsuits in a 1993 case. The guilty priests, who committed abuse elsewhere, had ended up in New Mexico at the church's Servants of the Paraclete treatment center for sexual problems.


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