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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

Monitors in the church

5/31/2003

THE ARCHDIOCESE of Boston is promulgating a policy against sexual abuse that, if rigorously monitored by independent lay people, will protect children while safeguarding the rights of priests and other archdiocesan employees. The policy is still a work in progress and will benefit from continued monitoring by the attorney general's office and lay Catholics. The most important aspect of the policy is the creation of a nine-person review board, eight of whom will be lay people and one a parish pastor. The board will review every investigation of abuse before the archbishop makes a final decision. No longer will he be able to move a suspected abuser quietly from one assignment to another. The board will also have a say in broader policy issues.

Cardinal Bernard Law established a similar board in 1993, but it operated in secret -- none of the names was made public -- and had a much narrower mandate.

Bishop Richard Lennon, Law's interim successor, will appoint the new board, with great publicity, within a month, and the board will elect its own chairman.

''Now we have the structure to ensure accountability,'' the Rev. Robert Oliver, the canon lawyer who coordinated the new policy, said at a press conference yesterday. That structure depends on the appointment of lay men and women who are not afraid to challenge the archbishop if necessary.

Attorney General Thomas Reilly, who has been monitoring the archdiocese closely, faults the policy paper for not stating that priests accused of abuse will be removed from contact with children. This position, implicit in the document, ought to spelled out.

The appointment of the independent board, like much of the rest of the policy paper, closely follows the policies approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last year. The archdiocesan policy has also benefited from close consultation with a special commission that presented its report to Cardinal Law in October.

That commission wanted to create an independent program to provide counseling for those harmed by abuse. The policy paper would keep this under the Office for Pastoral Support and Outreach, an agency of the archdiocese. To prevent conflicts of interest and ensure impartiality, counseling is best done outside the archdiocesan administration.

The new policy is weighted with canon law procedures for investigation of abuse cases and the protection of priests' rights. These certainly have their place in the document, but they should not obscure the necessity to protect children first, which was the prime focus of the cardinal's commission.

Lennon and Oliver are still fine-tuning the policy paper. It would benefit from greater emphasis on the protection of young people. Whatever is in the document, however, a strong board is the best guarantor that legalisms will not get in the way of prevention and detection of sexual abuse.

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 5/31/2003.
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