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Church Abuse Victims Want Reckoning    08/16 06:11

   (AP) -- Six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania joined the list this 
week of those around the U.S. that have been forced to face the ugly truth 
about child-molesting priests in their ranks.

   But in dozens of other dioceses, there has been no reckoning, leading 
victims to wonder if the church will ever truly take responsibility or be held 
accountable.

   "It happens everywhere, so it's not really so much a question of where has 
it happened, but instead, where has word gotten out, where is information about 
it accessible?" said Terry McKiernan, founder of BishopAccountability.org, a 
Massachusetts-based nonprofit group that tracks clergy sexual abuse cases.

   Since the crisis exploded in Boston in 2002, dioceses around the country 
have dealt with similar revelations of widespread sexual abuse, with many of 
them forced to come clean by aggressive plaintiffs' attorneys, assertive 
prosecutors or relentless journalists.

   In a few instances, namely in Tucson, Arizona, and Seattle, dioceses 
voluntarily named names.

   Dioceses in Boston; Los Angeles; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Denver; San 
Diego; Louisville, Kentucky; and Dallas have all paid multimillion-dollar 
settlements to victims. Fifteen dioceses and three Catholic religious orders 
have filed for bankruptcy to deal with thousands of lawsuits.

   Still, only about 40 of the nearly 200 dioceses in the U.S. have released 
lists of priests accused of abusing children, and there have been only nine 
investigations by a prosecutor or grand jury of a Catholic diocese or 
archdiocese in the U.S., according to BishopAccountability.org.

   In many of the dioceses that have been examined, the numbers have been 
staggering: in the six Pennsylvania dioceses, 300 abusive priests and more than 
1,000 victims since the 1940s; in Boston, at least 250 priests and more than 
500 victims.

   All told, U.S. bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people 
nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church 
going back to 1950.

   Phil Saviano, a Massachusetts man who said he was sexually abused by a 
priest in 1960s beginning at age 11, said he hopes the grand jury report in 
Pennsylvania will prompt attorneys general in other states to conduct similar 
investigations. He said he doubts dioceses will release names unless forced to 
do so.

   "My personal feeling is that none of them are going to come forward 
voluntarily. It's always going to take some pressure from the public, the 
parishioners or legal authorities," said Saviano, whose story was one of many 
exposed by The Boston Globe in its 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning series and later 
in the Oscar-winning movie "Spotlight."

   Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who estimates he has represented 3,000 
clergy sex abuse victims from around the world since the 1990s, said he has 
sent letters detailing about two dozen allegations of abuse against priests 
from dioceses in Michigan, Ohio and Rhode Island and received similar responses 
from all three.

   "They say, 'We feel very sorry for your clients, but it's outside the 
statute of limitations,'" Garabedian said, adding, "The church knows there is 
no legal recourse, so the church says it will not act responsibly and will not 
act appropriately."

   In many states, statutes of limitations allow people abused as children to 
file civil claims up until only age 21 or slightly older. In Massachusetts and 
other states hit hard by the crisis, those statutes were amended after the 
scandal erupted. But in many other states, the laws have remained unchanged.

   The Pennsylvania grand jury said that in almost every case there, the 
statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges has run out.

   Echoing what was discovered in Boston and other places, the grand jury 
report accused senior church officials of hushing up allegations against 
priests, in some cases by shuffling them from parish to parish.

   In a statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for the 
Protection of Children and Young People expressed sorrow over the Pennsylvania 
findings and said: "We are committed to work in determined ways so that such 
abuse cannot happen."

   In recent years, the U.S. bishops have adopted widespread reforms, including 
mandatory criminal background checks for priests and lay employees, a 
requirement that abuse allegations be reported to law enforcement, the 
suspension of priests while they are being investigated, and permanent removal 
from ministry when accusations are substantiated.

   The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest who is a senior analyst for the 
Religion News Service, noted such reforms but said the Pennsylvania grand jury 
report should be a "wake-up call" to other dioceses that they need to hire 
outside groups to do independent investigations, then must publish the results. 
But he said he is doubtful that will happen.

   "A lot of bishops feel, 'Hey, that was done before I got here. I regret that 
it happened, I'm sorry that it happened, but we've changed, this is no longer 
happening under my watch because of the procedures we've put in place,'" Reese 
said.

   "If they had just gotten all of the dirt out at the very beginning, all at 
the same time, then we wouldn't be suffering death by 1,000 cuts. It's just 
place after place, and frankly, it's the same story in every place."


(KA)

 
 
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