MILWAUKEE -- Priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee accused of sexual misconduct can be subject to unannounced searches of their homes or computers under a monitoring policy considered a first for the Catholic Church.
The archdiocese mailed guidelines within the last two weeks to about 400 priests and 150 deacons in an annual update of its clergy manual, which was obtained yesterday by The Associated Press.
In an e-mail sent to deacons and parish directors Thursday, Archbishop Timothy Dolan said the policy was a work in progress and that questions would be addressed at a closed meeting April 21.
Dolan acknowledged potential concerns about violating priests' individual rights, but said he was obligated ''to do everything in my power to support clergy who have struggled or faltered in their lives, especially when behavior results in a violation of moral or civil law."
Among those subject to searches are priests who are the subject of substantiated complaints or investigations involving sexual misconduct with a minor. The searches also could cover those who have broken their celibacy vows or are ''living in a 'married state,' " addicted to drugs or alcohol, or experiencing psychological illness, as determined by church officials.
Priests judged in violation could be banned from conducting services, wearing priestly garb, using computers, or possessing pornography.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops said it knew of no other such program.
Dolan approved the policies in December, after the archdiocese had already monitored some offenders for some time, said archdiocese spokeswoman Kathleen Hohl.
Peter Isely, the Midwest director for a victims group called the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he was skeptical of the program because of a lack of independent oversight.
''The management team does not have a great track record," he said.