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Spotlight Report

Panel to continue work

By Jenna Russell, Globe Staff, 4/14/2002

WESTON - Whether Cardinal Bernard F. Law stays or goes, his Commission for the Protection of Children will remain ''in business'' to promote healing and prevent future sexual abuse by the clergy, members said yesterday after meeting for more than three hours on the campus of Regis College.

Commission chairwoman Maureen Bateman said members - many of them sex abuse specialists - decided as a group not to comment on Law's announcement Friday that he will stay on as archbishop of Boston, despite steadily mounting pressure for him to step down. Bateman, executive vice president and general counsel of State Street Corp. and a director of the Catholic Schools Foundation of Boston, said the group didn't spend time yesterday discussing the effectiveness of Law's leadership.

''We didn't review his decision,'' she said. ''We decided any statement regarding Cardinal Law and his decision would detract from the mission of the commission.''

A draft report of their findings and recommended policy changes will be released by early summer, Bateman said. She and other members stressed their continuing confidence that their suggestions will be taken seriously, and implemented, regardless of who is archbishop.

''We're all clear change has to happen,'' said Suzin Bartley, commission member and director of the Children's Trust Fund, a Massachusetts agency for abuse prevention.

At the morning meeting, nine of the commission's 15 members talked about plans for better screening of employees, more education about how to prevent and report sexual abuse, and a new Office of Healing and Assistance Ministry, to be housed apart from the Boston Archdiocese. Two other commission members participated by phone, and four more, including Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley, did not attend.

Bateman said all 15 members appointed by the cardinal are still involved in the project and no one has resigned.

The panel of experts was assembled by Law and began its work last month with a meeting at the cardinal's residence in Brighton. The move west, to the quiet Regis College campus with its border of stone walls and pine trees, was partly an attempt to step away from the public furor over the sex abuse scandal, said Regis President Mary Jane England, a commission member.

But yesterday media flocked to campus looking for any fragment of progess. Tight security prevailed with reporters barred from the meeting itself. Afterward, three panel members - Bateman, Bartley, and England - spoke for the group.

England described the panel as a ''bully pulpit.''

''As an independent group, we can come forward and speak out about what we think is important,'' she said.

Many Catholics have been angered to learn in recent weeks that the church allowed priests accused of abuse to keep working in churches during the last several decades. As new claims of abuse continue to mount, the Office of Healing will provide a supportive setting for victims, commission members said. The office will be led by Barbara Thorp, previously head of the Pro-Life Activities Office of the Boston Archdiocese. She attended Saturday's meeting and updated the commission on her work.

Bateman said the group also has been reviewing policies from other dioceses across the country, and will incorporate the best practices into their recommendations. ''We're convinced our report will be listened to,'' she said.

The commission's next meeting will be May 17 at Regis College.

Globe Correspondent Benjamin Gedan contribued to this article.

This story ran on page A31 of the Boston Globe on 4/14/2002.
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