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Bishops Need To Be Held Accountable

Jun 28, 2002 | Amarillo Globe-News David Holley and Xavier Ortiz-Dietz are in prison. They should be.

Holley sodomized and molested at least eight boys from 1972 to 1974 in Alamogordo, N.M., and is serving a 275-year prison sentence. Ortiz-Dietz sexually abused seven boys in two parishes in the San Antonio area and is serving three concurrent 20-year prison sentences.

Yet, incredibly, Ortiz-Dietz still is a priest. Archbishop Patrick Flores, in an Associated Press story, said he plans to ask that inmate Ortiz-Dietz be defrocked.

Am I missing something here? Ortiz-Dietz not only should be defrocked, but defanged, deloused and deleted from the world that involves children.

The moment Ortiz-Dietz put on his prison jumpsuit, he should have been made to hand in his collar. Forever.

Ortiz-Dietz might be able to someday be a productive member of society, but never, ever as a priest or, for that matter, as someone who works closely with children. Yes, God does forgive, but that doesn't mean we have to forget.

For those of us outside the Catholic Church, the recently completed U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was a real eyeopener.

One of the major controversies of the conference centered on the future role sexually abusive priests will be allowed to play in the church. While they technically will remain priests, they will be prohibited from performing any duties connected to the church, such as celebrating Mass publicly, teaching in a parochial school or administering the sacraments.

Huh? Still priests? Limited roles? Would we have the same understanding for pedophiles working in our schools?

The bishops meeting in Dallas tried to quiet the outcry surrounding the church. Since January, more than 250 priests and four bishops have either been removed or resigned because of a variety of sexual misconduct allegations. For all the progress made at the conference, and there was plenty, more could have been done.

Now, I know that the overwhelming majority of priests and bishops are not the problem. I realize it is only a few wayward souls who have tarnished the image of so many.

I also know that this is not just a Catholic Church problem. Any person in my Protestant church who sexually abuses children should be dealt with immediately and not be hidden, and therefore protected, by the church. That also goes for Buddhists, or Jews, or Hindus, or what-have-yous.

In fact, I think a case could be made that priests who think it's OK to have sex with altar boys and bishops who cover up those misdeeds by moving the priests to other parishes should face tougher penalties than almost any other member of society.

After all, these are the very people who are supposed to help the helpless, give comfort and shelter to the homeless, and protect the defenseless. In essence, they are the ones entrusted to do God's work.

Priests and bishops should have two books thrown at them, not just one.

Talk about giving religion a bad name.

Why would someone searching for answers to life's challenges and questions or seeking relief from personal pain come to a church where sexually abusive men still are allowed to be priests?

I'm not a fan of zero-tolerance policies in general, but when it comes to children being stalked by power-hungry, manipulative clergy, I think "one strike and you're out" is the best policy. I'm fairly certain the one-time victim, if there is such a person, would agree.

On that matter, the conference proved beneficial.

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which the bishops finalized in Dallas, states that action "by anyone acting in the name of the Church, whether the abuse was recent or occurred many years in the past" will be considered as sexual abuse of a minor.

Also the charter made it clear that any past or future abuse will be treated as a criminal offense. In Article 4, it states that dioceses "will report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities. They will cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question."

The article goes on to say that the church will advise victims of their right to report the abuse to the police and support them in this right.

Treating the problem of abusive priests as an in-house matter was a practice that long ago should have been changed.

While the actions of priests were properly called down, the conference didn't address the actions, or more accurately inactions, of bishops. And it might be the bishops who in the past turned a blind eye and deaf ear to sexually abusive priests who have stained the church the most.

After abusing the boys in New Mexico, Holley was a priest at six different churches in the San Angelo area from 1977 to 1984 and worked in the Amarillo diocese, according to the Standard-Times newspaper in San Angelo.

Bishop John Yanta of the Amarillo Diocese also employed a priest with past problems. According to The Dallas Morning News, Yanta hired the Rev. Richard Scully, who was removed in 1988 from a parish in the Diocese of Yakima, Wash., after a lawsuit accused him and another priest of molesting a teen-age boy.

Bishops must do proper background checks, including criminal background checks, on priests they hire.

The bishops' conference was historical. Never before had sexual abuse victims been heard by so many priests and bishops under such a bright spotlight. The lid of secrecy has been pried off.

That's a step in the right direction.

But by excusing bishops from their moral, if not legal, responsibilities, the Catholic Church might once again be protecting itself, not its flock.

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