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Spotlight Report

Advocates for victims release priest names

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 11/13/2002

WASHINGTON - In a day of protest and pronouncement, victims of clergy sexual abuse yesterday aired the names of hundreds of priests accused of sexual misconduct and called on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to develop rules holding bishops accountable for the supervision of abusive priests in their dioceses.

After months of criticizing the bishops for not adopting more stringent measures at their June meeting in Dallas, victims' groups said they were taking actions that the bishops have refused to adopt by distributing the names of 283 diocesan priests and seminarians accused of sexual misconduct.

In addition, the groups released information but not the names of another 290 priests removed from ministry or publicly identified as alleged abusers, but who are not the subject of civil or criminal litigation.

The groups also said that, through confidential sources, they have compiled a separate list of 1,500 priests who also have been accused of sexual abuse.

Paul Baier, the founder of SurvivorsFirst, said the publicly released list - which was culled from newspapers and posted on the group's Web site - is designed to show that clergy sexual abuse ''is a systemic problem'' and to help parents and employers monitor abusive priests removed from active ministry because of sexual misconduct allegations.

Advocates said the list, released as the bishops hold their fall meeting here, was developed as a salve to victims who may be suffering privately in the belief that they alone were molested by a particular priest. ''It lets them know that their abuse is not unique and that this is a problem that extends to every corner of the United States and every corner of the world,'' said Susan Archibald, president of Linkup, a victims' advocacy group.

Baier, a Wellesley resident, said SurvivorsFirst took particular care to ensure that the group did not name anyone who has not been credibly accused. One hundred of those named have been convicted of sex crimes, Baier said, while the 183 others have either settled complaints out of court or face pending civil or criminal action.

''The last thing we want to do is be part of a witch hunt or false accusations,'' Baier said.

While the bishops privately discussed the proposed revisions to the norms backing their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, another group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, criticized bishops for failing to adopt measures holding themselves accountable for supervising and disciplining abusive priests. ''If there are no policies or procedures for accountability, enforcing the charter is going to come down to the character and quality of an individual bishop,'' said Peter Isely, the group's Midwest director.

But SNAP also released a list of eight bishops it credited with ''good acts'' that should be adopted by all bishops as they continue to confront the clergy sexual abuse scandal. The group lauded Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore for publicizing the names of abusive priests on his archdiocesan Web site. And it praised Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles for releasing victims who have received financial settlements from confidentiality agreements.

For their part, the bishops yesterday adopted a statement in which they pledged to ''assist each other to interpret correctly and implement'' the Dallas charter and, in cases where bishops are accused of molesting minors, to ''apply the Charter also to ourselves'' and inform the Apostolic Nuncio, the Vatican's ambassador to the United States. The bishops are expected to debate and then approve revisions to the norms associated with the Dallas charter today.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, the conference president, in an interview, addressed an issue that has concerned victims since his opening speech Monday, when he lashed out at unnamed critics of the bishops. He said his remarks were not directed at victims, but at supporters of ordination of women and abortion rights.

''Our affection and respect for those who have been harmed has not in any way lessened,'' he said. ''But there are those who have clear agendas that they have been promoting for a long time, and for whom this moment seems just too delicious to ignore.''

Three members of Soulforce, a group advocating for gay and lesbian Catholics, said they were denied Holy Communion at a Mass for bishops Monday evening. They refused to leave the hotel lobby yesterday and were arrested.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at rezendes@globe.com.

This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 11/13/2002.
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