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Critics Call Priest Crackdown Spotty

Jul 30, 2002 | The Daily News Catholic bishops who pledged to crack down on abusive priests aren't abiding by the national charter they adopted in Dallas, abuse survivors charged yesterday.

"Children remain at risk in the church, unfortunately," said David Clohessy, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Members of the group have been invited to address today's first meeting of a lay panel reviewing how bishops are handling abuse allegations in their parishes.

SNAP charged the "zero-tolerance" charter adopted in June by the bishops' conference in Dallas - which largely defused the crisis atmosphere in the church - is being applied inconsistently and even ignored in some parishes.

"Six weeks after the adoption of a national charter, we've seen egregious examples across the country of noncompliance," said SNAP board member Mark Serrano.

SNAP noted the Dallas charter did not include any sanctions for bishops who do not abide by it.

At a news conference on the steps of the Cathedral of St. Matthew, SNAP members illustrated their examples with pushpins in a national map, including:

The Rev. Joseph Byrns of St. Rose of Lima Church in Brooklyn was not suspended until Friday even though his accusers - including another priest - spoke up five years ago. Bishop Thomas Daily backed Byrns' sidelining only after the Queens district attorney deemed the accusations credible.

The Rev. John Leonard of Richmond, Va., was reinstated after a seven-week investigation into charges against him. The bishop didn't consult his own review board, prompting one member to quit.

The Rev. Thomas DeVita of Kalamazoo, Mich., who admitted in 1998 to sexual misconduct with a Long Island boy who received a $50,000 settlement, remained a priest, though his last day is tomorrow.
"There's no excuse for leaving a dangerous man around children," Clohessy said.

"They failed to take the most basic, basic action," said Peter Isely, another SNAP member. "Getting these men they know about out of their dioceses - they could have done that the day they got back from Dallas."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it would respond at a news conference today.

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