Pedophilia Board Focused on Victims First

Article excerpt

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The board of inquiry that produced the sexual abuse findings in the St. Anthony's Franciscan Seminary investigation here (NCR, Dec. 10) could serve as a national model for other troubled communities.

It was outraged parents who demanded creation of the task force that formed the inquiry board and shaped its approach. This followed an October 1992 letter from the Franciscan community advising parents of choir boys that there had been a molestation case.

Coordinator of that task force was Ray Higgins, a retired businessman and parent of a former St. Anthony's student, who later became one of six board of inquiry members. The investigative process was markedly influenced by information obtained from national organizations for victims of sexual abuse by clergy and from the experience of other U.S. and Canadian communities where sexual abuse had occurred.

Of the board's findings Higgins said, "We didn't want a witch-hunt or a whitewash. ... The most important thing we did was to get help to the victims."

A major requirement, Higgins said, was that the board be independent, otherwise it would lack credence. "We developed four goals," Higgins said, "to locate as many victims as possible and to help them in any way we could; to identify the perpetrators and make recommendations for their evaluation, treatment, monitoring and disposition; to make policies to ensure it won't happen again; and to recommend a permanent board to assist victims as they continue to come forward, as well as to monitor implementation of our recommendations."

When the board began its work almost a year ago, and victims identified themselves by telephone, mail or in person, they received a "victims' resource packet" that included a list of recommended therapists, methods of evaluating therapists, a recommended reading list, and directives for requesting therapy and obtaining compensation from the province for the therapy.

Victims were guaranteed anonymity by use of code numbers. Each victim and each family member was entitled to 50 sessions of therapy in an 18-month period followed by a review of the victim's well-being.

The other board members included:

* Chairperson Geoffrey Stearns, an attorney who for 21 years has represented hundreds of children in juvenile court abuse, neglect and family-law custody cases. He is a trained family and civil disputes mediator and has agreed to serve on the permanent board.

Stearns, who is not a Catholic, observed that the seminary system appeared to suppress discussion and awareness of healthy sexuality. …