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No. 11- 5:30 PM 6/17 MP
Bishops agree to remove sex offenders from ministry

No. 10- 8:00 PM 6/16 TF/TR
Bishops urged, in a most unusual morning, to press for reforms beyond sex abuse policy

No. 9- 11:00 AM 6/14 TR
Bishops urged, in a most unusual morning, to press for reforms beyond sex abuse policy

No. 7- 9:00 PM 6/14 TF
NCR Editor Tom Roberts assesses Dallas meeting on “News Hour”

No. 6- 1:45 PM 6/13 TF
Bishops caught in the middle as meeting opens

No. 5- 10:00 AM 6/13 TR
Serious questions for wider church loom after Dallas meeting

No. 4- 9:45 AM 6/13 TR
For victim leader Clohessy, years of work lead to 15 minutes before the bishops

No. 3- 4:30 PM 6/12 TF
Arriving in Dallas, bishops greeted with more bad news

No. 2- 11:00 AM 6/12 TF
U.S. bishops, facing church division, lack authority to set U.S. course

No. 1- 4:35 PM 6/11 TF
Cardinal lashes out against U.S. media as it prepares for Dallas

Posted 9:15 A.M. CST Friday, June 14, 2002
Number 8

Bishops issue ‘profound apology,’ hear victims’ stories, strong calls for reform

NCR Staff

Denunciations of clericalism and calls for reform dominated the opening session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The lay speakers who addressed the bishops spoke with different voices, but all called for a change of action and attitude on the part of America’s Catholic bishops and several suggested that the change must go far beyond the establishment of a national policy on sexual abuse.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, acknowledged the gravity of the crisis facing the bishops in his opening remarks. On behalf of the bishops, Gregory offered “a profound apology” to the victims of sexual abuse and asked for their forgiveness. He also asked for forgiveness from priests whose good names have been called into question because of the scandal. Gregory urged bishops to move beyond the anger they may feel toward each other and forgive one another and called for any victims who had not yet come forward to do so and for any priest responsible for crimes to report them to his bishop if he had not done so already.

Following Gregory’s remarks, R. Scott Appleby, associate professor of history at Notre Dame University, Margaret Steinfels, editor of Commonweal magazine, four victims of clerical sexual abuse, and Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, a psychologist who works with adult survivors of child sexual abuse, spoke to the bishops on some of the dimensions of the sex abuse scandal.

Appleby, who has been a director of Notre Dame’s Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, bluntly told the bishops that “the viability of the church’s moral and pastoral mission in the United States,” as well as the reputation of the priesthood, the moral and pastoral authority of the bishops, and the church’s credibility on social justice and sexual teachings are all at stake in the current crisis. “Whether the Catholic church as currently governed and managed can proclaim the gospel effectively in this milieu is an open question,” Appleby said.

In assailing what the Notre Dame professor called the sin of clericalism that he said was at work in the sex abuse scandal, Appleby said liberal, conservative and centrist Catholics all agree that there has been a betrayal of fidelity that was “enabled by the arrogance that comes with unchecked power.” The Notre Dame professor said an alienation between the hierarchy and the laity that has developed over the past 35 years opened the way to a crisis that goes far beyond the bishops’ failures in dealing with abusive priests. Appleby said a new attitude toward lay leadership, supported by new and renewed structures, is necessary if the church is to overcome the crisis.

In her remarks, Steinfels also spoke not only to the loss of trust that has resulted from the scandal but to the loss of trust that preceded it. Steinfels observed that there is not only a growing distrust on the part of the laity toward the bishops, but an obvious distrust of the hierarchy toward the laity. “If the laity were trusted, why would so little real institutionalized role have developed in parochial and diocesan decision-making?” asked Steinfels.

“We can restore trust in the church and in church leadership only if church leadership begins to trust the church – the 99 percent of the church that is the laity. … We need to breathe new life into the project of church renewal that we have neglected for too long,” said Steinfels.

Four victims of clerical sexual abuse testified before the bishops on how the sex abuse they had suffered as children and young persons affected their lives. Speaking out in emotion-filled testimony were Craig Martin, Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher, Michael Bland and David Clohessy. They were followed by Frawley-O’Dea, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst and the co-author of Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Frawley-O’Dea said about one third of all women and a quarter of all men have been sexually abused as children, and this seems to hold true of different societies around the world. “Sexual violation of minors is not just an American problem or a priestly problem,” Frawley-O’Dea said, who went on to observe that blindness, deafness and muteness seem endemic responses to sexual abuse in every society.

Frawley-O’Dea said an opportunity as well as a crisis confronts the Catholic Church today. church leaders “could, if they wanted, become social leaders all over the globe in spearheading efforts to protect children from violation,” said Frawley-O’Dea.

In their remarks, the victims called for the bishops to enact a zero tolerance policy that would prevent any priest guilty of sex abuse from continuing in ministry. The mood of the conference seemed to be such that many believe such a policy will be established despite the reservations of those who would like to be able to take a case by case approach. But bishops are feeling pressed to take strong action to restore public trust and assure American Catholics that the church will be a safe place for children.