National Catholic Reporter

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Accountability

Disparity in definitions dogs 'credible accusation' standard

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Editor’s note: We recently received a phone call from a reader who asked, regarding the clergy sex abuse crisis, "When I see ‘credible accusation’ in newspapers, what does that mean?" We took a closer look at the term.

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The phrase “credible accusation” appears regularly in media accounts of clergy sexual abuse of minors. It generally indicates that those making an initial judgment believe the accusation against a cleric has some merit.

While experts interviewed for this story pointed out repeatedly that a credible accusation does not mean the accused is guilty, it does mean the accused is removed from ministry immediately and not allowed back unless the accusation cannot be substantiated, which can take years. Meanwhile, a clergyman’s reputation is damaged and, some would say, can never be fully restored.

Yet no precise definition or standard exists for what it means to be “credibly accused,” leaving each diocese to decide on its own what credible means.

Money, not justice, still guiding abuse policies

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A quarter-century-plus into the clergy sex abuse scandal, and as a direct result of the crisis, an annual rite plays out each spring in state capitols across the nation.

Here’s how it works: A state lawmaker introduces legislation to extend the statute of limitations on child sex abuse. The idea is simple enough: to allow sex abuse victims to bring civil suits (that means potential monetary damages) against sex abusers and those who enabled them. Given the nature of sexual assault on children -- kids being more likely to conceal rather than reveal the horrors committed against them -- the abuse frequently occurred five, 10, 20 or even 30 years ago, hence the desire to open a “window” for civil penalties and prosecution.

State capitols are chummy places, clubhouses of political horse-trading and old-fashioned backslapping that make their federal counterpart in Washington appear angelic. Backrooms fill with old comrades and contestants from prior battles as lawmakers-turned-lobbyists and other hired guns argue, at considerable expense, their cases.

Philadelphia: Where is the outrage?

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COMMENTARY

Many, probably most, Catholics in the five counties that make up the Philadelphia archdiocese believed Cardinal Justin Rigali in 2005 when he promised that things would change, that there would be no more cover-ups and that those who were raped, sodomized or sexually exploited by predatory priests and church workers would be treated humanely instead of being intimidated, harassed and bullied.

I was not one of them.

Since 2002 I have tried to do everything I could possibly think of doing to bring attention to what I perceive to be an entrenched pattern of deceit and dishonesty orchestrated by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church to protect its image, hold onto its power and authority, and keep known sexual predators in ministry while failing to even consider the welfare of untold numbers of children.

February’s release of a second grand jury report on the Philadelphia archdiocese shows just how futile it is to put one’s faith in church leadership.

Philadelphia’s hierarchy has failed the People of God. Cardinals Krol, Bevilacqua and Rigali have failed us and they have betrayed us.

Bishop: Charter review to look at Philadelphia abuse

WASHINGTON -- When the U.S. bishops meet in Seattle in June, they will review implementation of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" nearly 10 years after its 2002 passage.

They also will look at "whether there was some sort of the breakdown of the system" that prompted the abuse-related investigation of more than two dozen priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Wash.

"I'm confident that the dioceses are doing their work and that the situation Philadelphia is facing -- removing such a large number of priests, the circumstances under which that occurred," is an aberration, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People said in an April 15 telephone interview with Catholic News Service.

"We have to wait to see exactly what happened in Philadelphia," he said.

Wilmington diocese to cut jobs, close paper to pay abuse costs

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WILMINGTON, Del. -- The Diocese of Wilmington will eliminate 19 full-time and three part-time positions as it cuts operating expenses and prepares to pay more than $77.4 million to survivors of sexual abuse by priests.

The diocese announced the cuts in a letter from Bishop W. Francis Malooly accompanied by a list of positions that will be eliminated. Among the services that will be discontinued because of the layoffs are two run by Catholic Charities -- parish social ministry and the adoption program. The diocese will also stop publishing its newspaper, The Dialog, after 46 years and will let go the paper's staff of seven full-time employees and one contract staff member.

Other staff reductions will come in the offices of the chancery, Hispanic ministry, human resources, religious education and marriage tribunal. A vacant position in Catholic youth ministry will not be filled.

Most of the layoffs will be effective July 1. The Dialog "will be phased out sometime this fall," the diocese said. "Alternative modes of communication between the diocese, parishes and the faithful are being studied."

Church needs help to quash abuse cover-ups

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It is time for Catholics to acknowledge what is clear: Despite the promises made at the height of the sex abuse crisis nearly a decade ago, the leadership of the church on both a local and national level has failed to deal forthrightly with the clergy abuse crisis. Certainly many dioceses and bishops are diligently applying the charter they adopted in 2002. But what the recent scandal in Philadelphia reveals is that the system is easily compromised, dependent as it still is on sheer trust at too many levels and on the goodwill of bishops who remain above accountability.

Sex abuse cases part of a confusing picture

WASHINGTON -- When two men alleged that they had been abused in Texas during the 1970s and '80s by a man associated with the youth wing of the Knights of Columbus, they filed suit not in Texas but in Connecticut, where the Knights' national headquarters is located.

And when Delaware opened up a two-year window that allowed child sex abuse lawsuits that would have previously been barred under the state's statute of limitations, some of the lawsuits filed dealt with abuse that was alleged to have taken place outside of Delaware.

Those cases point up the confusion and legal maneuvers that have resulted from the wide array of ever-changing state laws affecting the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases.

"Attorneys will definitely forum-shop," said Anthony R. Picarello Jr., general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A civil claim that had been legally prohibited for many years in one state might be resurrected in another with the passage of legislation removing the statute of limitations retroactively or extending the age by which a person alleging abuse must file suit.

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November 21-December 5, 2014

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