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4 U.S. Bishops Named to Sexual Abuse Panel

October 24, 2002|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

Four American bishops were appointed Wednesday to a joint Vatican-U.S. Catholic church commission that is supposed to revise the American "zero-tolerance" policy on sexual abuse.

Vatican officials proposed the commission last week as a way of resolving their objections to parts of the policy that U.S. bishops adopted in June at the height of the sexual abuse scandal.

The four U.S. members of the commission are Cardinal Francis George of Chicago; Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco; Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill.; and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn.

The four members from the Vatican are Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy; Archbishop Julian Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith; and Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, secretary for the Congregation for Bishops.

In a statement released Friday, the Vatican said the American policy, known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, infringed on the due-process rights of accused priests.

The Vatican also questioned the charter's broad definition of what constitutes sexual abuse and the role of boards composed of lay Catholics that were given the role of reviewing how bishops handle sex abuse cases.

The Vatican decision met with anger and skepticism from support groups for victims of sexual abuse.

On Wednesday a spokesman for one group said he was not reassured by the membership of the new commission.

None of the U.S. bishops appointed to the joint commission is "a particularly strong advocate for victims," said Mark Serrano, a member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

"It's hard to remain hopeful for the safety of children or the healing of our church while the Dallas charter is being eviscerated," Serrano said. He added that representatives of victims will be able to speak with the bishops before they leave for Rome.

"Because the commission has no layperson or [sexual abuse] survivor, it is imperative that they hear directly from victims and laypeople before deciding to gut the Dallas charter," Serrano said.

Speaking for the church hierarchy, the head of the U.S. bishops conference repeated assurances he made last week that the Vatican is committed to protecting young people from sexual abuse.

Vatican officials "have shown great pastoral care in their sensitivity to the pain caused to victims, their commitment to the need to protect society from perpetrators of abuse, their regard for the respect that needs to be shown for the rights of the accused, and their pain at the anguish caused to faithful Catholics by this sinful and criminal conduct," Bishop Wilton T. Gregory of the Belleville, Ill., Diocese said in his statement.

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