Returning to the pulpit for the first time since the nation’s bishops passed a landmark policy dealing with sexually abusive priests, Sacramento Bishop William K. Weigand told congregants this weekend they “have every reason to expect us to do our best.”
He said the Sacramento Diocese will, in effect, have a zero tolerance policy.
“Any priest, deacon or church worker who has abused will not stay in ministry,” Weigand said to about 400 people at the Saturday evening Mass at St. Clare parish in Roseville.
Weigand spoke during a pastoral visit to the church. Last week at their fall meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S. bishops approved new guidelines on dealing with priests who sexually abuse minors. The Vatican had rejected the previous policy, adopted in June, citing concerns over priests’ rights and conflict with church law.
The new policy reinstates the statute of limitations. Accusations must now be made by the alleged victim’s 28th birthday. In another change, accused priests would be tried in church tribunals staffed by church officials. These proceedings would not be public.
Critics said these changes and others had “watered down” the policy and gave bishops too much authority. But church leaders across the country denied this. Weigand told parishioners that the policy had been “maintained and strengthened.”
“I invite anyone who thinks this has been watered down to come to my office and read it,” said Weigand in an interview Friday afternoon at the pastoral center. “It’s simply not true.”
Weigand said the new policy would have little effect on the Sacramento Diocese, which he called “ahead of the curve,” referring to the establishment of the Independent Review Board and victim’s hotline.
Weigand added that although the statute of limitations had been reinstated, bishops still have the power to request dispensation from the Vatican. He is not sure when and how church tribunals would be set up, but has talked to other bishops in Northern California and says there will probably be one for the entire area.
Weigand also rejected criticism that the new policy gave too much authority to bishops.
“Ultimately, it will be the bishop who has to make the decision about a priest,” said Weigand. “I can’t shed my responsibility as much as I would like to at times,” he added.
It has been 10 months since the sex abuse scandal first hit the church, and Weigand admits it has taken its toll. Like many church officials, he says the intense media scrutiny over the scandal has placed “some tension” between the bishop and priests. He says he understands why some churchgoers are angry at bishops who knowingly transferred abusive priests. “So am I,” said Weigand.
And, he says, there’s been a personal toll. Some of the issues that have come across his desk in the past few months have been “heartbreaking.”
“I think I can say that the past 10 months have been the most difficult of my tenure in Sacramento,” said Weigand, who came to the diocese in 1994.
He called the case of the Rev. Vincent Brady of St. Joseph parish in Lincoln “tragic.” Brady was removed from ministry in June after a second allegation of sexual abuse surfaced.
In 1999, Susan Hoey Lees claimed Brady molested her when she was a child more than 25 years ago. The diocese settled with Hoey Lees for $350,000. Brady denied the allegation.
Brady could not be reached for comment. The name of the second alleged victim has not been released.
Despite the claims, Brady remains popular with his parishioners who want him reinstated and say he has been an exemplary priest who has been a victim of the times.
The review board is reviewing the second allegation, and Weigand says he expects to receive their report soon. “I don’t think this case will be unresolved too much longer,” said Weigand.
Weigand says that although the scrutiny has been difficult to handle at times he says good has also come out of the scandal.
“New victims have come forward and started the healing process,” he said. “It’s also not a topic people will push aside anymore.”
Weigand said that in the end, he believes, the scandal will make the church stronger.
“I think it’s important to remember that despite all of this, the vast majority of people have stayed with the church.”
Over the past several months, Weigand has spoken about the scandal at churches throughout the diocese, as he did at all three masses at St. Clare in Roseville this past weekend.
Afterward, parishioners said they were glad the bishop talked about the scandal.
“It sounds like it’s all being dealt with, and I’m glad to hear it won’t be tolerated,” said Carol Simmons, 40, of Rocklin. “But I’m also concerned about charges against people who may be innocent.”
Jaime Gonzalez of Roseville wanted to hear more. “I’m glad he talked about it, but I think he kind of glossed over it.”
Weigand said that church leaders have the same goal as their members. “Our first goal is to protect children.”