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Spotlight Report

Skeptics sit on panel for clergy abuse policy

By Sacha Pfeiffer and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 10/24/2002

Five days after voicing reservations about the US bishops' policy to address clergy sexual abuse, the Vatican yesterday named the four US prelates and four Vatican officials assigned to swiftly bring the plan into accord with canon law.

The four Americans have generally avoided strong or controversial statements on the clergy abuse scandal.

But three of the four Vatican appointees have expressed views at odds with the public position of US bishops on the abuse issue. Two of those have said that Roman Catholic officials in the United States should not inform law enforcement about priests who molest children.

In addition, the senior Vatican official among the four, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, has yet to rule on a 1997 request from the bishop of the Tucson diocese that the Vatican suspend a monsignor accused of multiple acts of molesting minors, according to sealed court records obtained by the Globe.

And Archbishop Julian Herranz, the Vatican's top canon lawyer, who will play a key role in the deliberations of the eight-man panel, gave a speech in April in which he described pedophilia as a ''concrete form of homosexuality.''

One of the four US bishops who will join in the 11th-hour attempt to ready a revised policy in time for the mid-November conference of US Catholic bishops has voiced reservations about the bishops' ''zero tolerance'' policy.

He is the senior prelate among the four, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. In June, George expressed reservations about the tough policy. And after its adoption, he met with accused priests to advise them that they could appeal their removal.

The other American bishops who will work with the Vatican are Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco; Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill.; and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn. The four US participants were chosen by Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The full panel of eight men, which may begin meetings as soon as this weekend, was created after the Vatican last week ordered changes in the policy for dealing with abusive priests that American bishops adopted in June. The Vatican decision suggested the policy neglected the rights of accused priests by calling for removing any priest who had molested a child, no matter when it occurred. Still, the Vatican expressed optimism - joined in by Gregory and other American prelates - that the differences could be ironed out swiftly.

But victims of clergy abuse, and their advocates, remain concerned that the Vatican may force a significant dilution of the bishop's policy.

And yesterday, a national organization that represents victims of abusive priests expressed dissatisfaction with the American appointees to the panel.

''None of these bishops is a particularly strong advocate for victims,'' Mark Serrano, an official of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said in a statement.

But another church observer saw the lineup of American panelists as potentially formidable advocates for a tough policy on abuse.

''It's a group who certainly don't have to prove their loyalty to the Vatican or to Rome,'' said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, editor of America, the Jesuit weekly. ''And if they speak with one voice and argue strongly for the American position, then I think there is a good chance they may be listened to.''

''These are all loyal people,'' Reese added, ''but at the same time, because their loyalty isn't in doubt, they could argue the case pretty strongly depending on what they believe and think.''

Reese expressed puzzlement at the list's omission of Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of Minneapolis-St. Paul, who oversaw the drafting of the June charter, and is chairman of the bishops' ad hoc committee on sex abuse. ''He's one you would presume would be appointed,'' Reese said.

Other victims' groups, as well as lawyers who represent plaintiffs, have given high marks to Lori for his sensitivity to victims. Lori, who was appointed bishop of Bridgeport in 2000, has been faced with a scandal over allegations that his predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, dealt harshly with victims while keeping abusive priests in parishes.

Bridgeport attorney Jason Tremont, who represents more than 50 alleged victims in Connecticut, said he had nothing but praise for the way Lori has implemented the zero-tolerance policy adopted in Dallas. Tremont also said Lori has apologized and offered to meet personally with each victim.

Buddy Cotton, the New Jersey director of SNAP, was one of 25 victim advocates invited to meet with several US bishops, including Lori, in Dallas in June. At that meeting, Cotton said, Lori struck him as one of the most impressive members.

''He was young, intelligent, engaging, and seemed interested in our perspectives. And that was very different from the other people on the committee,'' Cotton said.

But Lori is also among a handful of American bishops who have banned members of Voice of the Faithful, a group of lay Catholics that has formed in the wake of this year's disclosures, from meeting in Church buildings. And in an effort to protect embarrassing disclosures about the handling of sexually abusive priests by Egan, Lori is mounting a court battle in which his lawyers have argued that church records should be kept under seal because they contain highly sensitive material.

The victims' groups were less familiar with the positions and views of the Vatican appointees. But in various settings, three of those prelates have taken controversial stands related to the clergy abuse issue.

For example, when Pope John Paul II summoned a delegation of US cardinals to Rome in April to discuss the sex abuse crisis in the Church, Castrillon Hoyos, who is head of the Congregation for the Clergy, implied that the molestation of children by priests is a problem largely confined to the United States.

Earlier in the year, Castrillon Hoyos, who is from Colombia, also asserted that the incidence of priests who molest children is only 3/10ths of 1 percent. In the United States, some specialists who have studied the problem believe the incidence is at least ten times that number.

Archbishop Herranz, the Vatican canon lawyer who equated pedophilia with homosexuality, said in an April speech in Milan that the large settlements paid to abuse victims by the US church were ''unwarranted.''

He also criticized the US media, saying they were trying to ''sully the image of the church and the Catholic priesthood'' with ''tenacious, scandalistic'' reporting.

In the same address, Herranz called the demand that bishops report abusive priests to law enforcement an ''unwarranted simplification'' and said he believes church law ''provides all the trial and punishment tools necessary'' to handle priests who abuse children.

Similarly, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, another of the four, argued in a February interview that priests should be able to confide in their bishops without fear of legal consequences, saying that priests' ''professional secrecy'' must be respected by civil authorities.

Castrillon Hoyos's involvement in the Tucson case has not been previously reported.

In August, the Globe reported that Tuscon Bishop Manuel D. Moreno had sought unsuccessfully since 1992 to suspend Monsignor Robert C. Trupia after receiving multiple allegations that Trupia had molested minors. Earlier this year, the Tucson diocese settled 11 sexual abuse lawsuits against Trupia and two other priests for a sum estimated at $14 million by people familiar with the case.

Sealed court documents from the Trupia case obtained by the Globe include an October 1997 letter from Castrillon Hoyos to Moreno overruling Moreno's decision to suspend Trupia. The cardinal's letter also suggests that Moreno entertain a proposal by Trupia, who is a canon lawyer, to retire as a priest in good standing and work as a consultant to other dioceses.

Moreno, in a December 1997 response to Castrillon Hoyos, appealed the decision and said he would refuse to consider Trupia's proposal. ''If I do that and he commits an offense in that diocese, both this diocese and myself would be personally liable, not to mention the scandal that would be caused among the People of God and the harm that might result to an innocent party,'' Moreno wrote.

A spokesman for the Tucson diocese said in August that Castrillon Hoyos has never replied to Moreno's 1997 letter and that the Vatican has never ruled on Moreno's appeal.

June Kellen, chancellor of the diocese, said yesterday she could not locate any communication with the Vatican regarding Trupia later than Moreno's 1997 letter to Castrillon Hoyos.

Attempts yesterday to reach a Vatican spokesman were unsuccessful.

Walter V. Robinson of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 10/24/2002.
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