Archbishop Takes Stock of His Committee's Draft

Top Roman Catholic officials from the metropolitan area are heading to Dallas today for the U-S Conference of Catholic Bishops, where they'll vote on a draft set of procedures for handling priests who are accused of sexually abusing a minor. Some of the proposal's recommendations are already in place in local dioceses. The Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn have already agreed to report all allegations to police, as the proposal suggests. Some recommendations, such as ending the use of confidentiality agreements, have yet to be put in place. The Archbishop of Newark, John Myers, is a member of the ad hoc committee that drafted the proposal. WNYC's Amy Eddings spoke with him about what he expects in Dallas, and how it will affect local Catholics.

Archbishop Myers calls the draft proposal a "victim-centered document." It requires a diocese to provide victims with counseling, and support groups. It calls for the creation of a coordinator, who will serve as a point person for victims in every diocese. It also asks dioceses to set up boards that will review allegations and policies, and advise bishops on problem priests.

Archbishop Myers says one "hot button issue" at the conference will be the recommendation that, in the future, bishops remove any priest who commits child sexual abuse. For past cases, the committee wants to defrock, or laicize, priests who've been diagnosed as pedophiles, or who've committed more than one act of abuse. For priests with only one past act of abuse on their record, though, the committee offers bishops more leeway to determine whether they can continue to serve. But Archbishop Myers says support for that provision is unclear

Archbishop Myers: There, I think I sense the bishops getting stronger in the direction of, well, we're not going to even tolerate -- even have them assigned. I think there might be a distinction between being out of priesthood, which is laicization, and out of ministry, which might mean going to a monastary, or, you know…. There might be other ways of safeguarding people, but not on assignment, representing the church in a public way. I detect some motion in that direction, but I'm only one bishop, and I don't pretend to speak for all of them.

Amy: Looking at this locally, I know Cardinal Edward Egan and Brooklyn Bishop Thomas Daily in Brooklyn are not commenting on the draft. But a spokeswoman for Bishop William Murphy in Rockville Centre on Long Island says they're already implenting may of the recommendations, such as reporting to authorities --

Archbishop: We've done that too. In fact, in New Jersey, clergy are not exempt from reporting, so we've always done that, in cases of child abuse.

Amy: My read of the draft reveals a lot of other recommendations that may get short shrift. For example, as you mentioned earlier, the establishment of safe environment programs.

Archbishop: Yes, we had already started planning that, long before we knew of this draft, for our schools here in the Archdiocese of Newark, and in all the parishes, too. Of course, we've had a review team since 1993. So many of the things we call for here, we think it's a reasonable thing, and we've already done it.

Amy: Are you establishing policies that many dioceses can turn around and say, hey, we've already done them, and does that indicate that the policies the Conference is going to consider need to go farther?

Archbishop: No, I think this is raising the bar for everyone, even those who have been doing well. And those who have not been doing very well, it raises the bar very high. // and one of the things that doesn't come through always, Amy, is that there is a second document, which is Essential Elements, which draws from the charter and puts it in the form of law. That will have to be approved in Rome, but once it's approved, it becomes a requirement for all the dioceses in the United States. And that's significantly raising the bar.

Newark's Archbishop John Myers, speaking about the draft charter on how to handle allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy. American bishops will vote on the draft during a conference that begins tomorrow in Dallas. He spoke with WNYC's Amy Eddings, who will be reporting from the conference during the next few days.