Diocesan sex abuse policies affirmed

Keeler speaks out on protecting flock amid national cases

March 14, 2002|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Cardinal William H. Keeler, reversing a decision to keep a low profile on the issue, has pledged to protect Baltimore's Catholics from sexual abuse by priests, schoolteachers or anyone else who works for the church.

Writing in today's issue of The Catholic Review, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Keeler acknowledges the pain and scandal caused by a wave of revelations of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

In today's column, Keeler refers to the Bible passages that were read in every Catholic church Sunday that speak of the blind regaining sight and of the light of God overcoming darkness.

"All around us today," Keeler wrote, "darkness is being brought to light as we hear stories from Boston, Palm Beach, New Hampshire and even from St. Thomas Aquinas School here in Baltimore," where a fourth-grade lay teacher has been charged with molesting several female pupils. "Exposing this darkness has brought great pain in our church.

"When I became the Archbishop of Baltimore, God placed in my care the spiritual lives of the people of this archdiocese," the cardinal added.

"It is a gift that I cherish. I promise as your Archbishop that I will do all in my power to protect our people from such abuse."

Along with Keeler's column, The Catholic Review reprinted the archdiocese's "Policy and Procedures in Cases of Child Sexual Abuse" adopted in 1993.

This latest scandal began with a priest in Boston accused of molesting 130 people over a decades-long career and mushroomed as first Boston, then a half-dozen other dioceses, acknowledged past cases of abuse that had been ignored or settled quietly. More than 20 priests were removed from active duty.

Another major blow came Friday, when the bishop of Palm Beach, Fla., resigned after admitting to improper sexual conduct with a seminarian when he was the rector of a Hannibal, Mo., seminary 27 years ago.

As the scandal has worsened, several church leaders, including the cardinals in Washington, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, issued pastoral statements or wrote articles in their diocesan newspapers apologizing for clergy sex abuse and restating or announcing changes to their policies. Until now, Keeler had deferred.

"Until recently, the number of queries we'd received had been small and they were answered individually," said Raymond P. Kempisty, Keeler's spokesman. "But more recently the volume has increased through letters, e-mails and phone calls."

The increased interest, with the appropriateness of Sunday's readings, convinced Keeler that "the time was right to reaffirm where he stands on this issue and what the church's policies are in the Archdiocese of Baltimore," Kempisty said.

This month, after media inquiries, Keeler's spokesman had said that "in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, there are no priests in parish ministry who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse."

The archdiocese has complied with state law, Kempisty said, by reporting to civil authorities whenever it believes any of its employees has abused a child. In Maryland, clergy have been required to report child abuse since 1987.

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