Monday, November 10, 2003

The nation’s Catholic bishops yesterday were encouraged by one of their leaders to move quickly in resolving the legacy of sexual abuse in their dioceses.

They also were asked for advice on dealing with dissident Catholics, especially those holding public office.

Holding their annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, the 296 prelates at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were told by the Most Rev. Wilton Gregory to pray “that our brothers and sisters who have been victimized will, with God’s grace, find the strength in their hearts to forgive us for what they have suffered.”

As demonstrators marched outside carrying childhood photos, teddy bears, candles and signs, Bishop Gregory reminded his audience that the sex abuse crisis is not over.

“Our solid steps to prevent future abuse must be accompanied by a healing and reconciliation with those who were abused,” he said.

“The victims among us have lived with their pain and grief too long. Too many have experienced that some of us did not act like good shepherds when they came to us.”

The bishops approved $265,000 to add another administrative assistant and two part-time consultants to their Office for Child and Youth Protection, headed by former FBI Agent Kathleen McChesney. Miss McChesney, whose office had been allotted $3 million for 2003 to 2005, has spent about $700,000 of her budget.

When a few bishops pointed out that the bishops conference is short on money and suggested that the Child and Youth Protection Office tighten its budget, others warned of a public relations disaster if the investigation was downsized.

“This is the most serious pastoral crisis ever faced in the United States,” said Bishop John M. Darcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind. “Not to fund Miss McChesney would be a mistake of enormous proportions.”

The bishops also heard from a task force, led by Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, on dealing with Catholic politicians who ignore church teaching on abortion, capital punishment, and war and peace issues.

“Some Catholic legislators choose their party over their faith, their ideology over Catholic teaching, the demands of their contributors over the search for the common good,” said a task force statement read by the Most. Rev. John Ricard, bishop of Tallahassee-Pensacola, Fla.

“Many of our faithful and many of our priests are troubled and confused by the positions contrary to Catholic teaching sometimes taken by men and women in political office in every level of government and on both sides of the aisle,” Cardinal McCarrick said.

Bishops lined up at the microphones to comment, some of them stressing that any policy on Catholic politicians must include sanctions on those who err. Bishop Sylvester Ryan of the Diocese of Monterey, Calif., said any sanctions would have to take political party structure into account.

In California, he said, there are a “significant number of Catholics in the Legislature who can never be depended on to support us” and whose liberalism “almost prohibits” an orthodox Catholic from being elected.

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