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 CNS Special report:
 Coverage of John Jay report, National Review Board study.

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Transmitted 03/01/2004 4:46 PM ET

Abuse victims say bishops' accountability still lacking

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Some victims of clergy sexual abuse and a lay Catholic organization said a new report on the causes of sexual abuse within the church and how it was handled by the hierarchy should have called for bishops who mishandled abuse cases to resign.

Abuse survivors also said they expect the number of reported cases of abuse by clergy will continue to grow as victims mature.

The Feb. 27 release of the report on the causes and context of abuse and a separate study on the extent of abuse cases should prompt more people to come forward, said Michael Bland, an abuse victim and a clinical psychologist, who also is a member of the U.S. bishops' National Review Board.

"It's good to know you're not alone," he told Catholic News Service.

Peter Isley, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said one thing mentioned too little in the two reports is accountability by the bishops who were responsible for supervising priests who abused people.

It's not sufficient for the church leaders to say repeatedly that only the Vatican has a say in the tenure of bishops, Isley said. The bishops "are not just dealing with the Vatican, but with the American Catholic public."

He said survivors of abuse such as himself generally understand that U.S. bishops have no authority to remove or force the resignation of fellow prelates. But the U.S. bishops could, for instance, evaluate how the church as an institution stacks up against other corporate structures in handling authority and how those in authority are held accountable to the "corporation," Isley said.

The report of the lay National Review Board on the causes and context of abuse did a pretty thorough job of wide-ranging analysis, said Isley, who is a psychotherapist. "It uses some pretty strong language and is not just what the bishops wanted to hear."

But he told CNS he would like to see the bishops address how they might put more "teeth" in the structure in which they themselves operate.

SNAP president Barbara Blaine said the reports weren't strong enough on angles victims see as essential.

"It's about the bishops, not the priests," she said in a statement. "It's about the enablers, not the abusers. It's about the cover-up, not the crime. It's about the present, not the past."

The study showed a peak of reported abuse incidents in the 1970s. But SNAP national director David Clohessy told CNS said that "bubble" in the number of cases per year "has more to do with the victims than the offenders." He would not be surprised if the peak of abuse cases found by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice study shifts to a higher number in a more recent year when additional victims report what happened to them.

It's often not until an abuse victim reaches his 40s that he begins to look at his own life analytically and tries to come to terms with what was done to him as a juvenile, he said.

"Maybe it's when we become parents ourselves, or when we hear a perpetrator has passed away," Clohessy said.

Bland said even though he looks at the effects of abuse in his professional life as clinical-pastoral coordinator of the Office of Assistance Ministry for the Chicago Archdiocese he found it personally vindicating to see the John Jay study figure that 10,667 individuals reported being abused by priests.

"It's staggering," he said. "But in a personal way, it's good to know you're not alone."

Voice of the Faithful, a national Catholic laity organization that was formed in Massachusetts as a reaction to how abuse cases where handled there, said the John Jay study has a "glaring omission" by leaving out the number of bishops who knowingly transferred from one parish to another priests who committed sexual abuse.

Failing to account for such bishops "is unacceptable and stalls abuse survivors, the hierarchy and the laity in their attempts to protect children and create a better, safer and healthier environment," said the Voice of the Faithful statement.

In the statement and in a full-page ad Feb. 29 in The New York Times, Voice of the Faithful called for lay Catholics to sign petitions calling for bishops' accountability.

The petitions ask Pope John Paul II to meet with an international delegation of victims of clergy sexual abuse "to begin reconciliation on behalf of the entire community of the Catholic Church," and "to hold those bishops responsible who knowingly transferred sexually abusive clergy, to accept resignations where offered and to call for resignations where appropriate."

Petitions to the bishops ask them "to disclose details of their oversight in transferring abusive clergy" and to cooperate with civil authorities in investigating crimes committed by clergy as well as "any negligence or cover-up by those responsible for overseeing actual or accused perpetrators."


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