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Members of Bishops' Committee Accused of Shielding Molesters

Apr 12, 2002 | AP

Two of the five Roman Catholic bishops on the committee developing the church's national response to the sex abuse crisis are accused in lawsuits of helping protect priests who molested children.

A third bishop on the panel suggested in a 1990 speech that church leaders hide records of abusive priests in the Vatican embassy, which has diplomatic immunity. His comments are being used in a sex abuse lawsuit that names all U.S. bishops as defendants.

Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sex Abuse of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is one of the church leaders who also is named as a defendant.

He's accused in Massachusetts lawsuits of knowing priests were abusing boys and failing to intervene, and of playing a role in shuffling offenders between parishes.

Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Missouri, is accused in a suit of conspiring to cover up molestation by the Rev. Anthony O'Connell, who resigned last month as bishop of Palm Beach, Florida, after admitting he abused a seminary student in Missouri more than 25 years ago.

A speech by Auxiliary Bishop A. James Quinn of Cleveland, meanwhile, is among the evidence submitted in the federal lawsuit accusing all U.S. bishops of conspiracy in the O'Connell case.

While there have been a few calls for the bishops to step down from the committee, a spokesman for the bishops conference defended them.

"None of these people have been accused themselves of any inappropriate behavior," said spokesman William Ryan. "I'm convinced that the people know the bishops are very concerned about this entire matter and they're determined to do something about it. I don't feel the ad hoc committee is going to be compromised in any way."

In a speech on canon and civil law in sex abuse cases, Quinn warned church leaders not to destroy or alter files that have been subpoenaed, then went on to suggest steps that can be taken before civil authorities intervene.

"If there's something you really don't want people to see you might send it off to the Apostolic Delegate, because they have immunity to protect something that is potentially dangerous ... ," Quinn said.

Quinn did not return calls seeking comment.

Gaydos, through his spokesman, said: "I've not been involved in a cover-up. But if people want somebody else on the committee, I won't stand in the way. I'll do anything to continue the work of the church."

McCormack's spokesman, Patrick McGee, said the bishop has no plans to step down from the committee. McCormack's tough stance on keeping child abusers out of pastoral service in New Hampshire makes him an ideal member of the committee, his spokesman said.

Not all Catholics agree.

"A lot of this turmoil blew up on this committee's watch," said Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the bishops conference and the Knights of Columbus. "They're not the guys to do what needs doing right now. It's got to be someone else who comes at this fresh, with no history, no previous entanglements."

Following the lead of the Boston Archdiocese, McCormack in February released the names of 14 priests and former priests. He said the priests had credible allegations of molestation made against them.

Prior to becoming bishop in New Hampshire in 1998, McCormack was director of ministerial personnel in the Archdiocese of Boston from 1984 to 1994. For several years, he handled sexual abuse complaints involving Boston-area priests.

Church documents released under court order this week in Boston indicate that McCormack was among the top church officials who allowed the Rev. Paul Shanley to continue to serve despite repeated allegations he abused underage boys.

Shanley, who now lives in San Diego, has been accused of molestation in several lawsuits and court documents show he spoke publicly in 1979 in favor of love relationships between men and boys. In one document, McCormack said Shanley was "a sick person."

In another lawsuit, a man who claims he was abused as a child by another Massachusetts priest, the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, says McCormack saw him being taken into the priest's bedroom at the rectory repeatedly, but did nothing. McCormack has said in interviews he doesn't remember any such incidents.

The bishops' administrative committee last month instructed the sex abuse panel to make recommendations that will help protect children and provide support to victims and their families.

Jeff Anderson, a Minneapolis lawyer who has represented hundreds of alleged victims, said the committee's main value is public relations and that its recommendations often are ignored.

Currently individual dioceses set their own policy. But the conference president, Bishop Wilton Gregory, has suggested the bishops' may ask the Vatican to approve binding national policies.

The panel will present its proposals when more than 300 bishops meet in Dallas in June.


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