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Diocese Agrees To Safeguards Against Sexual Assaults

Oct 7, 2002 | AP

A Roman Catholic diocese where dozens of priests have been accused of molesting children agreed Monday to follow a new set of safeguards more stringent than those set up by the nation's bishops.

The new measures adopted by the Diocese of Camden include allowing victims of abuse by priests whose settlements with the church include confidentiality agreements to end the gag orders unilaterally.

The measures also require the bishop to ask church officials in Rome to revoke the clerical standing of any priests found to have molested children.

"They will protect children and build on existing policies which demand that sexual abuse is dealt with openly and promptly, with compassion and concern for victims, with justice and due process for offenders and with pastoral concern for all the faithful," Camden Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said in a statement.

The recommendations released Monday were the work of a panel of Catholics and non-Catholics assembled in April by DiMarzio. The panel incorporated national guidelines adopted at a meeting of U.S. bishops in June, but went further in some areas.

The Camden diocese has been particularly hard-hit by accusations of misconduct by priests The accusations dominated news reports over the first half of this year, when there were hearings on a priest abuse lawsuit filed against the diocese a decade ago.

Like all the other dioceses in New Jersey and many across the nation, the Camden church agreed in April to give prosecutors the names of priests accused of molestation.

But the publicity for the Camden diocese has continued. On Sunday, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported about Jonathan Norton, a 17-year-old who accepted a settlement from the church in 1999. Norton said he was molested by a Merchantville priest as a preteen and that he believes the church has not done enough to prevent more abuse from happening.

He and other members of the southern New Jersey chapter of the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests were planning to launch a campaign on Tuesday to change the state's statute of limitations for criminal charges against clergy accused of sex offenses.

Mark Serrano, a national board member for SNAP, said Monday that the recommendations in the Camden report should have asked the bishop to campaign for the law change as well.

"In large measure, these recommendations still rely heavily on faith and trust in the bishop," Serrano said. "And the days for us to be blindly faithful and trusting are over."

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