Bishops Urge 1-Strike Plan for Priests Removal Sought in Future Child Abuse Cases

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Pinkham, Times-Union staff writer

Catholic priests who sexually abuse children in the future or who have done so more than once in the past should be removed from the priesthood, a bishops' committee recommended yesterday.

The proposal, addressing "a crisis without precedent in our times," also recommended immediate reporting of all abuse allegations to police, full cooperation with authorities and an end to confidential legal settlements with abuse victims unless they insist.

"We must increase our vigilance to prevent those few who might use the priesthood for their own immoral and criminal purposes from doing so," says the proposal by the seven-bishop Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse.

The committee is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is scheduled to vote on the proposals next week during its spring meeting in Dallas. That decision then goes to the Vatican, which must approve any mandatory policy.

The Vatican had no public statement on the committee's report yesterday.

Committee Chairman Harry Flynn, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said the proposals are an attempt to "restore the calm and peace of the church" as reports of pedophile priests around the country have multiplied. There have been no such reports in Northeast Florida or Southeast Georgia.

"Our foremost goal is to protect children and young people," Flynn said. "One essential way to do that is to say clearly, 'If you abuse, you are out of the priesthood.' "

Bishop Victor Galeone of the Diocese of St. Augustine, which oversees churches in Northeast Florida, was traveling and unavailable for comment, but spokeswoman Kathleen Bagg-Morgan said: "He's going to review all the documents that have been provided to the bishops prior to the meeting and will withhold judgment until then."

Jacksonville attorney Sidney Simmons, president of the bishops' National Advisory Council, wouldn't speculate on how they might vote in Dallas but said the breadth of the proposals "shows a very serious commitment to putting this issue behind them."

Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida called the proposals "a solid piece of work [that] can, and -- I can assure you -- likely will be amended.

"For church leaders, it's the beginning of a long and challenging road," he said.

Some thought the proposals don't go far enough, including a Jacksonville man who said he was molested by his priest in Ohio two decades ago.

"It's very good what they're doing. . . . As long as they abide by that, there's not going to be a problem," said David J. Hoehne, 34. But if dioceses continue to cover up priest misconduct, the proposal will have no effect, he said.

Hoehne said the church shouldn't give priests with one prior act of abuse a free pass.

"If it was any other person out on the street and they had one occurrence at all, where would they be? They'd be sitting in jail," Hoehne said. "They should be treated like anyone else."

A spokeswoman for Call to Action, a Chicago-based Catholic group frequently critical of church hierarchy, called the proposals "a step in the right direction. …