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 CNS Story:

REACTION-ABUSE Mar-15-2011 (960 words) With photo posted March 14. xxxn

Report 'puts cloud over' church efforts to prevent abuse, says official


Kettelkamp (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A recent grand jury report alleging past sexual abuse by clergy and other church personnel in the Philadelphia Archdiocese "puts a cloud over everything" the church is doing to prevent abuse, said Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection.

In the wake of the archdiocese placing 21 priests on administrative leave March 7 in its ongoing response to the grand jury inquiry, Kettelkamp said people want to know what happened, how it happened and what can be learned from it.

"Every bishop wants to hear how this could happen" to assure Catholics it won't happen in their diocese, Kettelkamp told Catholic Service March 11.

She does not attribute any failure in responding to claims of abuse to the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," adopted by the U.S. bishops in 2002 at their Dallas meeting and revised three years later. The charter and its norms are meant to put a comprehensive system in place to address and stop abuse.

What needs to be examined, said Kettelkamp, is the extent to which dioceses are following the "spirit and the letter" of the charter.

When the Philadelphia grand jury released its report, it called for the archdiocese to "review all of the old allegations against currently active priests and to remove from ministry all of the priests with credible allegations against them." Among other initiatives the archdiocese pledged a re-examination of the cases of 37 priests.

The grand jury also handed down five criminal indictments against a former priest, three current priests and a former parochial school teacher. The five were in court March 14 for a preliminary hearing.

As the Philadelphia cases of alleged abuse are re-examined, Kettelkamp said it should become clear if unreported cases of abuse were the result of human failure or a weakness in the process itself.

"We have a good charter and a good audit, but we'd be foolish and irresponsible not to take a fresh look at everything we do," she told CNS.

For starters, she noted that every diocese should be asking if it has sent every reported allegation of abuse to the local diocesan review board, and if not, why not.

Philadelphia's grand jury report cites instances where archdiocesan review board members, who examined reported cases of abuse, found some allegations lacked sufficient evidence to justify a priest's permanent removal. In some instances when these priests were not removed from active duty, the report showed, further allegations of abuse were made against them.

The charter's "zero tolerance" policy calls for the permanent removal from ministry of any priest or deacon found to have abused a minor in any way -- even if only once.

The policy has strong support among victims' groups as a sign that the church is serious about protecting children, but critics say there should be different levels of penalties for different types of child sex abuse, that a cleric who only touches a child should not be given the same penalty as a cleric who has raped numerous children.

Kettelkamp stands by the "zero tolerance" policy, especially given the current scandal.

She is confident that answers will come to light as the Philadelphia abuse cases are carefully scrutinized.

Currently, Gina Maisto Smith, the veteran child abuse prosecutor hired by the archdiocese, is leading the intensive re-examination of the cases. After her initial review, she recommended that Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali place 21 priests on administrative leave.

The cases concerned allegations ranging from sexual abuse of a minor to other incidents of what the archdiocese termed "boundary issues" -- discussions or behavior by a clergyman that might indicate a pattern leading to later abuse.

The priests' placement on leave is not a final determination, according to a press release issued by the archdiocesan communications office. The action follows "an initial examination of files looking at both the substance of allegations and the process by which those allegations were reviewed."

In one of a number of statements he has issued in response to the report, Cardinal Rigali called sexual abuse a crime and "always wrong and always evil."

"Many people of faith and in the community at large think that the archdiocese does not understand the gravity of child sexual abuse," he said Feb. 16. "We do. The task before us now is to recognize where we have fallen short and to let our actions speak to our resolve."

Kettelkamp said she hoped that during the archdiocese's review, "all the good work the church has done" to combat abuse will not be completely overshadowed. She also hopes the "armies of people" involved in rooting out abuse in the church will not give up their fight.

"On any given day there are at least 1,000 people (across the country) working on the charter," she said, adding that the Philadelphia scandal "demoralizes so many people who have worked so hard."

"I don't want them to get discouraged and give up," she added. "They should keep on doing what they do."

Both the charter and norms the U.S. bishops approved for dioceses to adhere to the charter's mandates have Vatican approval. The charter was updated in 2005, the norms in 2006.

The charter mandates that safe environment programs be set up in dioceses and parishes. It also requires an annual audit on how dioceses and religious orders are complying with provisions in the charter. Under canon law, dioceses cannot be required to participate in the audit, but it is strongly recommended.

In 2009, as in previous years, a few dioceses and eparchies declined to be audited for various reasons, but the Philadelphia Archdiocese has always participated in the audit. Results of the 2010 audit have not yet been released.

END


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