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Panel On Priests To Meet In Covington

Nov 14, 2002 | The Kentucky Post

The national debate over sexually abusive priests will land in Northern Kentucky when a panel monitoring the Catholic Church's new sex-abuse policy meets next month in Covington.
The National Review Board, appointed by the nation's bishops to help implement the policy, will hold its fifth meeting Dec. 16 in Covington.

The 13-member panel, which is made up of prominent lay Catholics, has been meeting in various cities across the country since July.

Northern Kentucky was chosen as the site of the board's next meeting because two of its members, William R. Burleigh of Boone County and Jane Chiles of Lexington — are from Kentucky.

Burleigh, who helped organize the Northern Kentucky meeting, said the group would convene in Covington, but he declined to release the exact location because the panel's meetings are closed to the public.

"We have a lot of work to do," said Burleigh, chairman of the board of the E.W. Scripps Co., which owns The Post.

The agenda for the December meeting is still being finalized. But Chiles said the panel would likely discuss preparations for two studies that it plans to undertake.

One would look at the scope of the sex-abuse problem, while the other would take a broader look at the church and the root causes of the crisis.

The panel also will hear from Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI official who was hired this week to head up the bishops' new Office for Child and Youth Protection.

McChesney starts on Dec. 2 as executive director of the office, which will be responsible for monitoring dioceses across the country and making sure they comply with the bishops' sex-abuse policy.

The bishops, meeting this week in Washington, voted Wednesday to revise the policy to satisfy the Vatican, which was concerned that not enough was being done to guarantee the due process rights of accused priests.

The revised policy says that priests should be removed from their duties after even one act of sexual abuse of a minor. But when a molestation claim is made, bishops will be allowed to conduct a confidential, preliminary inquiry. If the claim is deemed plausible, the priest will be put on leave and go before a clerical tribunal.

Victims groups say the revisions would allow the church to continue its past practice of protecting abusive priests.

But members of the National Review Board say the revisions will strengthen the original policy, which the bishops adopted last summer in Dallas.

The changes "put the charter in line with canon law but left intact the main thrust of what was accomplished in Dallas — that is to rid the church in America once and for all of this horrible nightmare that it has been going through," Burleigh said.

"Those that are saying it has been gutted and the church is not serious about attacking the problem just are not making a fair reading of what has happened," he said.

Chiles, former executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, said the revised policy also clarifies how allegations will be handled against priests who belong to a religious order.

Some people had been concerned that, under the original policy, it appeared that sex-abuse allegations against an order priest would be handled differently, Chiles said. The changes bring every priest under the policy's umbrella, she said.

"We think a priest is a priest is a priest, and for people to hear that, `Just because I'm a Jesuit or some other order I should be handled differently' just confuses people," Chiles said.

Meanwhile, preliminary data shows that dioceses across the country have begun implementing the new policy.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a survey in August to all 195 dioceses and eparchies in the United States to get a snapshot of how the policy is being implemented. Nearly all indicated that they would have implemented all major areas of the policy by next month.

Survey results for individual dioceses will not be made public because "it is just a preliminary look, and I don't think any conclusions can be drawn from that," Burleigh said.

However, McChesney and the review board will continue to audit all of the dioceses' progress and will make public the names of those that fail to comply with the policy, Burleigh said.

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