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Religion | IN BRIEF

Top U.S. Catholic Lawyer Warns of Scandal Fallout

January 18, 2003|From Wire Service Reports

WASHINGTON — Roman Catholic bishops need to guard against lawmakers who want to use the recent sex abuse scandal to push laws that would damage the church, the top lawyer for the the church said this week.

Mark Chopko, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the yearlong clergy sex scandal has given fuel to opponents who want to force the church to endorse contraception or limit the confidentiality of confession.

"There are forces at work in this society that will, unless checked, radically remake the religious institutions serving the public," Chopko said in a speech at the Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law. Chopko noted that he was speaking for himself and not the bishops.

"Unless we are prepared to defend our constitutional rights as a community of believers," he said, "our greatest gifts to the larger society in health, education and welfare are in jeopardy."

Chopko said exorbitant financial settlements have made church insurers reluctant to settle and instead favor lengthy court battles.

He also predicted 1,000 new court cases involving sex abuse within the next two years.

"Litigation, I fear, will waste resources on attacking and defending the church that should be and can be better spent resolving claims in fairness and justice," Chopko said.

"Bankrupting the church or forcing it to recede from ministries of preaching and teaching, sanctifying and serving, is not the answer."

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