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Student Priests to Get Background Checks

October 21, 2000|Associated Press

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Prospective priests hoping to enter seminary in Belleville's Roman Catholic diocese will have to undergo criminal background checks, beginning next year, just like lay employees.

The diocese, headed by Bishop Wilton Gregory, vice president of the U.S. bishops' conference, has an extensive screening process. But a spokesman said criminal checks are needed because many priest candidates are not well known in their communities and spend years in the working world instead of coming straight from high school or college.

Vicar General James Margason said no one event prompted the criminal checks. The diocese has had a troubled history of sexual abuse by some priests and dismissed 11 in the early 1990s.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington, D.C., said subjecting church employees, volunteers and prospective priests to criminal checks is fair and becoming commonplace.

"I think you have to have the same standards for priests as you do for lay people," Walsh said.

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