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Spotlight Report

Archdiocese issues child-protection policy

By Brian C. Mooney, Globe Staff, 5/31/2003

Sixteen months after the scandal of child sexual abuse by priests exploded in Massachusetts and shook the Catholic Church across the United States, the Archdiocese of Boston yesterday issued a detailed child-protection policy that Bishop Richard G. Lennon said is designed ''to rebuild the trust and bring healing within the Catholic community.''

The new guidelines, titled ''Policies and Procedures for the Protection of Children,'' are based on broad principles adopted in November by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and approved by the Vatican. The church leaders acted in response to the scandal, which ultimately revealed a pattern of abusive priests being transferred to other parishes or dioceses and resulted in the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law. Every diocese in the United States is supposed to issue similar policies by tomorrow.

''I personally commit myself to the full implementation and carrying out of these policies for the protection of the children of our diocese and to foster the integrity of the archdiocese in handling and addressing such grave matters,'' Lennon told reporters at St. John's Seminary in Brighton. ''Our commitment is firm, and I invite all the faithful of the Archdiocese of Boston and people of good will to join us in this concerted effort so that children are protected over and above all other concerns,'' said Lennon, the interim administrator of the archdiocese.

The 96-page booklet, laden with references to the church's internal system of canon law, outlines the central role of a nine-member ''independent review board'' composed mostly of lay members who do not work for the archdiocese. The board will review the results of preliminary investigations into complaints of abuse and make recommendations to the archbishop, who will then determine whether punitive action is warranted. The names of the board members will be announced by July 1, when the new policy goes into effect. Among other members, the panel will include a pastor, a specialist who deals with sexual abuse, and at least one victim or family member of a victim of sexual abuse.

To an extent, the policy codifies procedures put in place by the archdiocese during the past year in response to the scandal. In other instances, it expands those procedures and creates time frames and reporting requirements.

Among other guidelines, the policy establishes:

* an Office for Pastoral Support and Outreach, to provide services and referrals for professional assistance to victims.

* an Office for Child Advocacy, Implementation and Oversight, to oversee ''safe environment'' educational and prevention programs in parishes, schools, and hospitals. That program is underway and is reaching ''hundreds of thousands'' in the archdiocese, according to the Rev. Robert Oliver, who coordinated input from diverse constituencies in the preparation of the new policies.

* parish-based child abuse prevention teams to conduct training programs.

* that all clergy, archdiocese employees, and volunteers must undergo mandatory background checks. Every person at an archdiocesan institution working in contact with children under the age of 18 must submit to criminal background checks through the state's Criminal Offender Record Information database.

* that people who have filed complaints of abuse, and their lawyers, will have access to information produced by the archdiocese's investigation. In the past, the archdiocese has fought in court to block such access.

* that any priest, employee, or volunteer of the archdiocese must report suspected abuse to the state Department of Social Services. That goes beyond state law, which, of the three, includes only clergy as ''mandated reporters.''

The policy reiterates a zero-tolerance policy on offenders. ''No person known to have abused a child will be permitted to minister, work, or serve in an archdiocesan institution,'' it states.

A ''code of ministerial conduct'' for priests is still being drafted and should be complete by the end of June, Oliver said.

Reaction to the new guidelines was mixed yesterday.

Assistant Attorney General Alice E. Moore, chief of the public protection bureau, issued a two-page letter shortly before the policy was announced, noting ''some progress'' from earlier drafts, but criticizing it as ''deficient in many important respects.''

''Many of the key child protection measures are absent,'' she wrote. She also said that the new policy relies too heavily on the church's canon law, placing victims ''at a disadvantage.''

In response to Moore's comments, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, an archdiocese spokesman, said: ''We try to balance church canonical law with civil law. . . . We're doing more than civil law requires.''

Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who has represented 240 victims and alleged victims of abuse by priests in the Boston Archdiocese, said he has a number of concerns about the new policy, but called it ''a huge improvement'' over previous ones.

''A great deal of work went into this,'' he said. ''The success will depend on the leadership and will of those charged with enforcing it.''

Another victims' lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, was more skeptical of the reforms.

''People should go immediately to the police, not the church, when they discover their child has been sexually molested,'' he said. ''That's the best way to stop sexual abuse in the church. The church culture is such that they cannot police themselves.''

Mary Jane England, president of Regis College and a member of the archdiocesan Commission for the Protection of Children, said the new policy meets ''the letter of what they need to do'' based on the mandates of the US bishops and the Vatican. ''There's a lot of concern about the protection of priests and their rights.''

England, a child psychiatrist and former commissioner of the DSS, said the new procedures fall short in the area of prevention and setting professional standards for victims' treatment.

Voice of the Faithful, a lay group formed in response to the scandal, also expressed concern.

''The archdiocese must do a better job implementing these policies than they have'' with prior awareness, education, and training programs, said group member Kathy Mullaney. In the past, those programs suffered from ''erratic follow-up, . . . oversight and support. They need to put people and resources behind the implementation of these policies.''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 5/31/2003.
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