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Removal Of Priests Urged

Aug 9, 2002 | Akron Beacon Journal

An independent commission established to review the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland's policy on sexual abuse is recommending that a priest or deacon be permanently removed from ministry ``for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor -- past, present or future.''

That recommendation is in a 25-page preliminary report expected to be released today.

The report, including appendices, is divided into seven sections dealing with prevention, reporting, investigation, response, ministry and service, a review board and communications.

It was prepared by a 21-member commission headed by William Denihan, former director of the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services. He confirmed Thursday that the report would be released today.

According to a member of the commission, the draft was mailed Thursday to each of the diocese's 235 parishes to give parishioners access to the recommendations. The diocese covers eight counties in Northeast Ohio.

Meetings will be convened in each district of the diocesefrom Aug. 26 to Sept. 5 so commission members can collect input from parishioners and clergymen. That information will be discussed in a subsequent commission meeting and a final report will be prepared for Bishop Anthony Pilla.

The district meeting for the Southern District -- Summit, Medina, Wayne and Ashland counties -- will be held Aug. 28 at St. Vincent Church in Akron.

The commission member said recommendations in the report, which applies to clergymen, members of religious orders, seminarians, employees and volunteers of the diocese, include:

Requirements that diocesan employees and volunteers be familiar with the policy and its tenets.

Screening of all diocesan employees and volunteers.

Establishment of an office of Coordinator of Child Abuse Education.

Immediate reporting of allegations or suspicions of sexual abuse to civil authorities.

Completion of a preliminary report, from the findings of an internal investigation, to the bishop within 48 hours of an allegation of abuse.

Establishment of a 12-member, mostly lay, review board to examine cases and assess fitness of the accused.

Establishment of a response team, including two licensed mental health professionals and a licensed pastoral minister with special training in the assessment of sexual abuse, to assist victims, the abuser, parishioners and clergy.

Prohibition of confidentiality agreements, except for grave and substantial reasons by the victim.

Commitment from the diocese to make every effort to restore the reputation of a person who is falsely accused.

Denihan was appointed by Pilla in March to establish the commission in response to the growing sex abuse scandal that began rocking the Roman Catholic Church in January during the trial of John Geoghan, a former Boston priest who was accused of abusing more than 100 children. Geoghan was convicted of indecent assault and battery and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

Since then, dioceses throughout the country have been confronted by a flood of victims alleging past sexual abuse by priests. Some U.S. dioceses already have paid out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by victims and some allegations are being dealt with by the criminal justice system.

In the Cleveland diocese, Pilla has placed 15 priests on administrative leave because of past allegations of sex abuse, pending an investigation by the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office.

Pilla has said the fate of the 15 will not be determined until the prosecutor's investigation is complete, the recommendations of the Denihan commission are finalized and the Vatican has spoken on a national bishops charter.

In June, the U.S. Conference of Bishops adopted the ``Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.'' The charter, which is now being reviewed by the Vatican, mandates the removal from ministry of any priest caught abusing children and calls for each diocese to have a policy dealing with the issue by Sept. 12.

For the Cleveland diocese, completion of the Denihan commission report would be a major step toward complying with that deadline.

In a prepared statement Thursday, Pilla thanked the commission for its work and confirmed that the preliminary report will be reviewed by parishes and consulting groups, under the direction of the commission before the final report is prepared.

``As the document indicates, there will be a legal and Canonical review to determine the appropriateness of the policy and its reasonable implementation,'' Pilla wrote.

Prior to meeting with the bishops in June, Pilla issued a letter to all parishes outlining three ``non-negotiable principles'' in handling cases of sexual abuse. Those principles were the prohibition from ministry of clerics who sexually abuse children in the future, the involvement of lay people in the process of developing a sex abuse policy, and compliance with the legal obligation to immediately report incidents of abuse or alleged abuse to civil authorities.

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