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Catholic Leader of Bahamas Admits Priests, Workers, Have Sexually Abused Children; Says Offenders Are Dismissed

Apr 23, 2002 | AP

The Roman Catholic leader of the Bahamas admitted Tuesday that priests and lay workers here have sexually abused children, and said perpetrators have been dismissed.

Archbishop Lawrence Burke called the abuse "insidious and sinful," but refused to provide any details, including when cases had occurred and how many priests or workers had been punished.

"We've had cases, and we've handled them according to the policy," the Jamaican-born Archbishop said in a telephone interview. "But yes, absolutely people have been dismissed. That includes priests."

As Burke made the comments, Pope John Paul II told American cardinals meeting in Rome that there was no place in the priesthood "for those who would harm the young," saying sex abuse by priests was both a crime and "an appalling sin in the eyes of God."

John Paul made his toughest statement since allegations of sex abuse by priests began pouring out in January, shaking the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

Burke, who is set to attend the conference this week, called a news conference on Monday to answer reporters' questions. He told one that the church should try to "understand whether there is a connection between a life of celibacy and this deviant behavior."

Burke reassured people that Catholic schools and churches were safe for children, and released copies a policy he said the church in the Bahamas implemented in 1994.

"The Archdiocese will not tolerate pedophilia or any form of child abuse by any clergy, religious, lay person, whether an employee or volunteer," the eight-point document states.

It says the church would act promptly to investigate allegations, and that confirmation would lead to the permanent removal of the offender from his ministry.

It also says the church would abide by Bahamian law by reporting accusations to the police and assisting in investigations.

Burke told the AP that complaints had been registered with the Attorney General's office.

But the director of public prosecutions, Bernard Turner, said he has worked in the attorney general's office since the 1980s and knew of no complaints filed or prosecutions of Catholic priests or laymen.

The church's policy said it examined the background of its workers to ensure new priests and staff had never faced sexual allegations. It also said it would help rehabilitate offenders and support victims and their family to aid in their emotional and spiritual recovery.

"I personally see this as an opportunity for the church to enter into a period of renewal ...," Burke said.

Trinidad's American-born archbishop on Sunday told his parishioners they could trust their priests with their lives, that he has no reports of child abuse, and that he would deal with any "quickly and quietly."

Archbishop Edward Gilbert, a New Yorker, said the scandal rocking the church in the United States affected less than 1 percent of priests worldwide, and none in Trinidad and Tobago.

"You can bet your life on most of your priests. I am sure of that."

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