Clergy's sex abuse policy is decried Scant action taken, author charges

April 30, 1993|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

The author of a landmark study of the Roman Catholi priesthood told a conference on child neglect yesterday that the Baltimore and Washington archdioceses have not "done anything significant to deal with the problem of clergy sexual abuse."

A. W. Richard Sipe said at a workshop on child abuse that "the church hierarchy has held some pro forma sessions for all priests" but that "the essential focus of these meetings was to forestall legal liability and litigation."

Mr. Sipe wrote "A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy" based on interviews with Catholic priests between 1960 and 1985.

The workshop, sponsored by the Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families, was part of an all-day conference at the Baltimore Convention Center on child abuse and neglect. The meeting was attended by about 800 health professionals, social workers, members of advocacy groups, community volunteers and clergy.

A resigned priest who is a psychotherapist practicing in Lutherville, Mr. Sipe said that improved, more open policies to deal with abuse by Catholic clergy have recently been adopted by bishops in St. Paul, Minn., Chicago and Fall River, Mass. He said that Catholic dioceses in Canada have "approached the problem more vigorously" with "three very significant studies."

But "no responsible plan such as those has been articulated either in Baltimore or Washington," he said.

Archbishop William H. Keeler of Baltimore, who gave the invocation at the conference lunch, said of Mr. Sipe's evaluation, That is not true."

He said adequate policies to deal with Catholic priests who are sex abusers and with their victims have been in place in Baltimore since the mid-1980s. They are currently under review, the archbishop said.

A spokesman for the archbishop said later that he particularly wanted to deny that the Baltimore archdiocese is motivated by litigation or the threat of litigation. "We are motivated by a desire to help the victims and their families," said Rob Rehg, the spokesman, who added that changes in existing policies may result from a meeting of clergy and lay people scheduled in May.

Mr. Rehg said that, since 1985, six priests of the Baltimore archdiocese have been found to have abused children.

Four have since resigned from the priesthood and two have been reassigned to duties that do not bring them into contact with children, he said.

Mr. Sipe was on a panel with Dennis Gaboury, who gave emotional and graphic testimony about his own experiences as one of an estimated 150 victims of James Porter, a former Massachusetts priest now in jail in Minnesota for molestation.

Also on the panel was the Rev. Curtis C. Bryant, S.J., director of in-patient clinical services at St. Luke Institute in Suitland, which treats priests who are pedophiles. "Inside each of us are scales of justice," Father Bryant said after Mr. Gaboury's testimony. "St. Thomas Aquinas told us that rage is a virtuous response to injustice. I am remembering that as I hear what Dennis tells us."

Father Bryant added, "I have heard stories like his over and over and over again in the four years I have been at St. Luke's."

Mr. Sipe said the three panelists were "united in the conviction that secrecy and accountability cannot coexist" in the Catholic Church.

On the size of the problem, Mr. Sipe said that in 1976, he and Dr. Leo H. Bartemeier, who then headed the Seton Institute, a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore, "concluded that at any one time, 6 percent of Catholic clergy in the United States are sexually involved with minors."

He said that the percentage applies today to the priests of the Baltimore and Washington archdioceses.

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