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Church abuse commission to meet with archdiocese officials
By Ken Maguire, Associated Press, 07/29/02
BOSTON -- A commission put together to recommend ways to protect children from clergy sexual abuse will meet Tuesday with representatives of the Boston Archdiocese to discuss reform efforts already put in place by the church.
The meeting comes before the commission's final recommendations go to Cardinal Bernard Law.
The Rev. John Connolly, Law's private secretary, planned to discuss archdiocese reforms with the cardinal's Commission to Protect Children at a meeting Tuesday morning at the chancery.
The meeting comes two weeks after Attorney General Thomas Reilly criticized the archdiocese for being slow to implement change, but commission chairwoman Maureen Bateman said the public criticism was not the impetus for the meeting.
"It came about spontaneously because the commission wanted to hear, and they wanted to tell," Bateman said.
Law formed the commission after the abuse scandal erupted in January with revelations that church leaders dealt with abuse allegations against convicted child molesting priest John J. Geoghan by simply transferring him to new parishes.
The commission plans to give Law its final policy recommendations by Sept. 6. Its draft recommendations include a zero tolerance policy for abusers, better screening of clergy and church workers, and establishment of lay groups to monitor and enforce church policy.
Reilly's office, in a July 15 letter to Bateman, was supportive of the commission, but expressed no faith in Law's ability to carry out its recommendations.
The commission should toughen its proposals, Reilly said, by including language making the final recommendations binding and better explaining how allegations are investigated.
The public comment period on the commission's draft was scheduled to end Monday. There were 15 responses, including two from alleged abuse victims, Bateman said. She refused to provide any more details of the public comments.
Archdiocese spokesman the Rev. Christopher Coyne said he was not aware of details of the Tuesday meeting, but said some of Reilly's criticism was unwarranted.
"Some of the concerns raised by the attorney general had already begun to be put in place," Coyne said, mentioning the creation of an archdiocese office to help victims. "It's just a matter now of making it more public."
A toll-free telephone number for the Office of Healing and Assistance Ministry has been posted on the archdiocese's Web site, Coyne said.
Reilly's office also said church officials have not trained priests about the state's new mandatory reporting requirements and have failed to educate children and parents on warning signs of abuse.
Reilly, who did not immediately return a call for comment Monday, has said Law talks a good game "but the action hasn't matched those words."
Bateman, however, said they can't force the archdiocese into anything.
"We don't have the authority or power to bind the archdiocese, nor do we want to. I have confidence that they will do what they have to do," she said.
Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children, says the commission is proposing too many structures.
"In an attempt to be helpful, they've proposed too many structures that appear to be competing with civil authorities," said Bernier, whose Boston-based advocacy center was among the responders in the comment period.
Phil Saviano, head of the New England chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said his group had made a number of suggestions to the committee. He said he was concerned that the commission reports to Law, instead of an independent authority, and has no victim members.
Bateman said all the comments were helpful, but that she didn't expect to rewrite the draft.
"I don't think there will be widespread changes," she said.