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New Rules for Priests Issued in Boston

May 31, 2003|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — In what church officials here labeled "a response of repentance," the Boston Archdiocese released a set of rules Friday designed to protect children from clerical sexual abuse.

The document, a year in the making, outlines protocol to create "safe environments" intended to prevent abuse by Roman Catholic priests. The report, whose recommendations are set to take effect July 1, also outlines procedures to report and investigate allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy.

Acknowledging the toll of a crisis that began in the Boston Archdiocese more than 18 months ago, Bishop Richard G. Lennon said Friday that he hoped the new policies will "rebuild trust and bring healing within the Catholic community of Boston."

In an introduction to the report, Lennon -- who in December succeeded Cardinal Bernard Law as the interim administrator of the country's fourth-largest archdiocese -- quoted from a biblical passage saying that a person who hurts a child should "have a great millstone hung about his neck and ... be drowned in the depths of the sea."

Hundreds of priests accused of sexual abuse have been forced out of their jobs across the country. In Boston alone, nearly 500 lawsuits brought by alleged abuse victims remain unresolved. Dozens of abuse claims have been settled.

The scandal grew with disclosures that church officials in Boston and elsewhere protected priests at the expense of young parishioners, sometimes by moving accused priests to new parishes rather than removing them from work involving contact with children.

The magnitude of the crisis that unfolded in Boston heightens the importance of the rules announced Friday, said Jim Post, president of the Boston chapter of Voice of the Faithful, an organization seeking greater lay involvement in the church.

"The implications for the rest of the country are important, because Boston was the epicenter," Post said. He called the new policy "a step in the right direction -- but it is only one step, and it is a long journey to take."

The report incorporates recommendations adopted in November by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and approved by the Vatican in December. The Boston document is expected to be closely studied when the bishops hold their annual meeting next month in St. Louis.

The Boston rules include mandatory reporting of allegations to civil authorities. A priest who is convicted of child abuse will be "dismissed from the clerical state, our highest penalty," said Father Robert Oliver, who helped draft the new policy.

The new regulations also will set up an independent board to review accusations against priests, making preliminary reports within one month of any accusation, Oliver said.

Oliver said the archdiocese consulted with "at least 10" victims in writing the rules.

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