Catholic bishops' panel to confront sexual abuse Child victims need care, group says

June 18, 1993|By New York Times News Service

NEW ORLEANS -- Confronting a problem that has increasingly undermined confidence in their leadership, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops took their first steps yesterday toward creating a nationwide policy for investigating and preventing the sexual abuse of minors by priests.

At their semiannual meeting, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops announced the creation of a committee of eight bishops to draw up a plan for rooting out past and potential offenders, providing care to victims and preventing further misconduct.

"I want to make sure that all of us bishops understand the depth and seriousness, the pain and the agony of this problem, and why it strikes at the very heart of the church's trust level and credibility," said Bishop John F. Kinney of Bismarck, N.D., who will head the new committee.

He warned the 238 bishops gathered here that the process might "involve uncomfortable listening, nationally as well as back home," adding, "It might be messy listening, but that might well be necessary if we are to lance the boil."

At the meeting, the bishops also released for the first time the recommendations made by 31 psychotherapists, church officials and victims' advocates who met in February at the bishops' invitation. The group issued an impassioned report urging the church to act quickly and decisively to deal with child molestation, an issue that it said was eroding the church's authority in the United States.

"The allegations of sexual misconduct against Catholic priests and the perceived inability of some authorities to respond with decisive pastoral leadership has resulted in a sustained crisis in the church," the report said.

Among other things, that group recommended that priests who had molested children remain under permanent supervision, getting no further opportunity for unsupervised contact with minors -- a policy that would almost certainly prevent former offenders from resuming their work as parish priests.

These were among the group's other recommendations:

* Making the welfare of victims the church's highest priority in dealing with sexual abuse of children by priests. Victims should receive help in paying for therapy, and church officials should take the lead in seeking out other victims.

* Calling a national day of prayer and penance for victims, families, perpetrators and all the parishes that have been affected.

* Providing as much information as possible about allegations of sexual abuse by priests and the resolution of the accusations while protecting the rights of the victims and the accused.

* Developing improved methods of screening candidates for the priesthood and of maintaining the psychological and spiritual health of clergymen.

Bishop Kinney said he wanted his panel to emphasize bold measures, rather than perfecting a plan.

"Maybe everyone is going to have sit down with a group of victims and perhaps, abusers, too. That sets up a different dynamic," he said.

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