e-mail us

Church in Crisis

Survivors’ advocacy groups press review board for action


Pressing their case for more immediate action, representatives of the nation’s two leading clerical sex abuse survivors’ advocacy groups met this week in Oklahoma City with members of the National Catholic Review Board.

When the U.S. bishops established the review board last June in Dallas, they hoped to stem the clerical sex abuse crisis with the board’s help in enforcing reforms the bishops adopted, including compliance with the zero-tolerance policy.

Oklahoma Republican Gov. Frank Keating serves as chairman of a 13-member lay advisory board.

For an hour and 15 minutes, more than a dozen survivors, from both the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, and The Linkup raised various concerns. Among them were two key ones: some dioceses’ noncompliance with the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” adopted by the U.S. bishops in Dallas and the need for holding the hierarchy of the American church accountable.

SNAP and Linkup representatives presented evidence that 13 of the nation’s 195 dioceses have failed to comply with the zero-tolerance directive.

“We are afraid that dozens of priests with histories of sexual abuse remain in public ministry,” SNAP said in a written statement. “More and more perpetrators are suing their accusers, often with their bishops’ tacit approval, thereby intimidating victims and circumventing or interfering with lay review boards and law enforcement.”

Keating said that he would soon make public a list of dioceses and bishops that fail to follow the strict zero-tolerance policy. He said that most dioceses are complying with the Dallas charter.

During the meeting, SNAP and Linkup representatives urged the review board to ask the Conference of Major Superiors of Men to reconsider its August decision to allow abusers to continue in ministry in situations removed from parishioners. The conference represents religious orders -- about one-third of the nation’s 46,000 priests.

While the U. S. bishops agreed under zero tolerance to remove priest abusers from ministry, the conference said that the bishops ignored Catholic belief in redemption and research showing that some perpetrators can be rehabilitated.

Keating said that he and the board’s vice chairwoman, Anne Burke, an Illinois judge, would write the Conference of Major Superiors of Men with the “urgent request that they implement precisely the same policy the bishops approved in Dallas,” according to the Associated Press.

Other concerns that SNAP and Linkup have raised with the board include: dioceses’ use of deceptive and questionable outreach efforts such as staffing hotlines with lawyers, and subpoenaing individual survivors’ personal records.

The board meets next month in California.

Freelance journalist Chuck Colbert writes from Cambridge, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, September 27, 2002