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Spotlight Report

Review group meets with victims, details goals

By Robert Schlesinger, Globe Staff, 7/31/2002

WASHINGTON - The board that will monitor the Catholic Church's reaction to the ongoing child molestation scandal met for the first time yesterday, asking the US bishops' conference for a detailed review of how each diocese across the nation is complying with guidelines issued last month on protecting children.

Members of the 12-person commission, chaired by Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, also met with leaders of a victims' support group, laid out specific long-terms goals for the commission, and introduced topics - such as the review of diocese compliance - for their next meeting, in Oklahoma City in September.

''We intend to do anything we can do in order to make sure that this long night, this agony of our faith, is over,'' Keating said.

Leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests expressed some optimism about the board.

''The bulk of the commission's members are people of good will who want to do the right things, but it's simply too early to tell,'' said David Clohessy, the group's executive director.

Creation of the commission was part of the policy the US Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted June 14 to deal with the ongoing scandal.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, the president of the conference, described the board as ''an important step forward from our past efforts to deal with sexual abuse of young people by clergy.''

The policy also created an Office for Child and Youth Protection to oversee how individual dioceses deal with molestation and to make an annual public report detailing progress in the implementation of the policy. The reports will be cleared through the review board that Keating chairs. These annual reports are distinct from the initial review Keating requested.

Keating said the review board also planned to appoint someone to run the new office before their next meeting, on Sept. 16.

''It's very important to make a statement here that this school year will be a safe year,'' Keating said.

He added that the board has three goals in helping dioceses deal with child molestation by priests: transparency, referring criminal cases to the proper authorities, and having ''zero tolerance'' for child molesters - current or past.

The board, which is composed of lay members of the church whom Keating described as ''orthodox, believing, active Catholics,'' has no direct power. It instead seeks to wield influence through its ability to highlight dioceses that are particularly effective or ineffective in dealing with molesting priests.

Keating had breakfast with four leaders of the victims' support group, a meeting that Clohessy described as ''very cordial, very business-like, very frank.''

In the afternoon, those leaders met with all 11 current members (one has yet to be appointed) of the review board for 45 minutes.

The support group had previously criticized the commission's makeup and asked for representation on it - a request they repeated during the meeting. The board does include one abuse victim, Dr. Michael J. Bland, a former priest.

The members of the support group also requested that the review board schedule a weekend retreat with abuse victims to hear their stories.

''Taking the time to really sit down with survivors can be a very healing experience, can be a very therapeutic experience, can be a very transformative experience,'' Clohessy said. He said that commission members were receptive to the idea.

The support group's leaders expressed hope that the formation of the commission would mark a turning point in the church's reaction to the scandal. ''What change we have seen on this issue has come largely because the secular authorities have prodded our [church] leaders to act,'' said Peter Isely, a support group leader.

Other review commission members include prominent Washington, D.C., lawyer Robert S. Bennett, Illinois Justice Anne M. Burke, and former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta.

Robert Schlesinger can be reached at

This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 7/31/2002.
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