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Diocese Outlines Abuse Policies


Fourteen new standards on combatting sexual abuse by clergy were adopted Tuesday by the Catholic Diocese of Tucson, which now seeks public feedback on them.

The changes include setting up a diocesan office devoted solely to protecting parishioners from sexual misconduct and hiring a compliance officer to make sure officials are following their own rules. The start-up costs to put the policies in place are estimated to be between $50,000 and $100,000.

The new policies, which could still be polished or revised as a result of public input, were released Tuesday by the diocese's Child Abuse and Sexual Misconduct Policy Review Committee during a prayer service at St. Augustine Cathedral, 192 S. Stone Ave. At least 150 people, including teachers and principals from Catholic schools, attended the service.

Committee Chairman Dr. José Santiago presented a set of recommendations to Bishop Manuel D. Moreno and Coadjutor Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who blessed them during the service. Santiago's appointed, all-volunteer committee has been meeting regularly since March to formulate the recommendations, which became policy after the blessing.

"The diocese has undertaken some extraordinary measures to deal with this in a decisive way. It should ease the concerns people have with past practices of the diocese,'' Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, a committee member, said after the service.

New office is created

Among the standards the diocese adopted Tuesday:

The hiring of a new compliance officer to ensure the diocese follows its policy. The new officer could be hired within the month and will be part of the newly created Office for Child, Adolescent and Adult Protection.

The creation of a Sexual Misconduct Review Board of predominantly lay people that will make recommendations to the bishop. Santiago, senior vice president and chief medical officer of the Carondelet Network, was appointed chairman of the new board. The other members have not been announced.

No more confidential settlement agreements unless the victim requests it.

Mandatory fingerprinting and background investigation of all clergy, religious, seminarians, employees and volunteers.

A zero-tolerance policy for any priest who sexually abuses a young person, including laicization - the removal from the priesthood - of all abusers except those who are elderly or permanently infirm. Those in the latter category, whose clerical status is not removed, will be permanently prohibited from performing public ministry.

Cases are under investigation

The policy review committee was formed in reaction to an out-of-court settlement between the diocese and 11 men who said they were abused by local priests in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. The undisclosed settlement was estimated to be as high as $16 million.

No criminal charges in Pima County have been filed against the two living priests named in those cases - Monsignor Robert C. Trupia of Maryland and the Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson - but the Pima County Attorney's Office is investigating, prosecutor Kathleen Mayer said Tuesday.

More allegations of abuse

Mayer's office was recently made aware of additional allegations of abuse after the diocese last month released a list of 15 local priests, dating back to the 1950s, with "credible" accusations of child abuse against them.

The lawsuits triggered public outcry and accusations that the diocese covered up or ignored incidents of priests abusing young boys.

"I think it's absolutely wonderful they are taking the issue seriously and their new policies indicate that,'' said Lynne M. Cadigan, the attorney who represented the 11 men in the civil actions that were settled. "The only concern I have is that they actually implement them, but I believe Bishop Kicanas will do that.''

Cadigan noted the new policies do not address the behavior of bishops, but added she realizes that's not possible since the Vatican ( news - web sites) is responsible for their conduct.

One issue that still needs clarification, according to diocese spokesman Fred Allison, concerns mandatory reporting to authorities. The new policies say all instances of child abuse or a sexual offense with a minor, whether observed or reported by another source, must be reported to local law enforcement without delay or "filtration" by the diocese.

Diocese encourages reports

But in the instance of an adult who was abused as a minor, the decision of whether to report to civil authorities is up to the victim, though the diocese encourages filing a report.

"That point was researched pretty thoroughly and the legal advice we got was that if the person is now an adult that person decides if they want to report it. That's how it happens everywhere,'' Dupnik said.

But Allison said that policy will be reviewed again to ensure it complies with state reporting laws.

"One of the areas of difficulty for the diocese is that it shouldn't be making decisions regarding the statute of limitations. I'm going to be adamant about having the board address that issue,'' Allison said.

New policies may be revised

Indeed, Moreno and Kicanas stressed that the new policies may be revised and polished, particularly after they review suggestions provided by the public during the four-week comment period, which will close at the end of August.

"I have heard about the recommendations and what's crucial to remember is that words are easy but the action is hard,'' said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, speaking of the new Tucson policies.

"Historically, there has been a huge gulf between promises and performance by church officials on this issue. While these steps may represent progress on paper it remains to be seen whether it will translate into real substantive change in how these cases are handled and abuse victims are treated.''

Moreno apologizes again

Moreno on Tuesday, in a speech that alternated between English and Spanish, reiterated his apology to those who have suffered as a result of abuse by priests. He also apologized to anyone who suffered because he and others did not take quick and assertive action against abusive priests.

The service included a reading from Paul's letter to the Romans, in which he says, "The spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness.''

The Catholic Diocese of Tucson stretches across nine counties and includes some 350,000 Catholics.

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