Bishops Urge Policies on Handling Sex-Abuse Charges

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A committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued its first report on how church leaders should respond when allegations of sex abuse are leveled at priests.

The report, which was released last week at a meeting of the bishops in Washington, recommends that every diocese establish an advisory panel to periodically evaluate the effectiveness of church policy on the issue.

The bishops' group also said every diocese should have a written policy on sexual abuse of minors.

"The best way for us, as bishops, to deal with accusations of child sexual in a spirit of openness, justice, and compassion for all the people of the Church," the committee's chair, Bishop John F. Kinney of Bismarck, N.D., said.

The document, "Restoring Trust: A Pastoral Response to Sexual Abuse," includes a review of the existing church policies, a report on evaluation and treatment centers for sex abusers, and articles on the subject written by church leaders, doctors, and psychologists.

At the meeting, church leaders acknowledged that attention had been focused primarily in the past on legal questions, and less so on the spiritual and emotional dimensions.

The committee recommended policies that "recognize that primary attention be given to the person alleged to have been offended, to the family, and to the parish community."

Guiding Principles

It also noted that a minority of dioceses have policies addressing the needs of the larger parish community in the wake of an accusation of sex abuse.

The committee urged dioceses to follow three principles when developing such policies:

That parishes experience "a complex process of grieving when they learn a trusted and respected leader has been accused;"
That obtaining accurate information about an incident become a key element in healing; and
That the healing of a faith community is a "multidisciplinary challenge."

Bishop Kinney expressed sympathy for the victims of child abuse.

"I know that I speak for all of us when I say that as the bishops of this country, we are sorry for the pain and scandal caused by the actions of pedophiles in the Church community," he said.

"We are also sorry for those times we have not handled these matters in the best possible way," he added. "We want to correct our mistakes and make sure, insofar as humanly possible, they don't happen again."

Vol. 14, Issue 12, Page 5

Published in Print: November 23, 1994, as Bishops Urge Policies on Handling Sex-Abuse Charges
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