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Bishops advised on sexual abuse.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Thirty recommendations for U.S. Catholic bishops were developed during a recent two-day session in St. Louis set up to examine the problem of child sexual abuse by priests.

The meeting, sponsored by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry, was the first bishops-sanctioned national "think tank" on sexual abuse by priests. The 31 participants included church leaders, researchers, victims, priests being treated for abuse problems and various experts. The session was closed to the public and the press.

According to Jeanne Miller, president of Victims of Clergy Abuse Linkup and a participant in the discussions, the recommendations were developed out of three specific questions the group examined the problem: What is "the appropriate pastoral response" to victims and family? How can further instances of clergy sex abuse be prevented? Under what circumstances, if any, can a priest be reassigned?

As part of the session, the participants broke into small groups of 10 and hammered out the list of recommendations, which are to be forwarded eventually to the whole body of bishops.

"I was extremely pleased with the recommendations," Miller said. "In all the groups, the number one recommendation was that, in cases of clergy sexual abuse, the first concern of the church should be the victims and their families."

Most of the recommendations that came out of the meeting have been suggested before, Miller said. However, one of the more "novel" recommendations was to set up an independent hearing board "so the victims can be heard" and resolutions can be made.

"We understood the recommendations we were making were not anything that has not been told to the bishops to date," Miller added. "But this was an organized and, I believe, refreshing way of reminding them of what must be done in order to obviate an ultimate disaster that's on its way."

One "distressing" aspect of the meeting, Miller said, was that this "think tank" was not funded by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops but through a private grant. "It was never disclosed who provided the grant," she said. "I would have liked for the NCCB to have made an investment in collecting this input .... There was some air let out of our tires when we found out they did not fund this."

Bishop Harry Flynn of Lefayette, La., was the only bishop to participate in the session. several priests were present who work with abusers -- some from St. Luke's Institute in Maryland and one from the Paracletes.

The guest list also included two priest sexual abusers and one victim, according to Miller, who is the mother of a victim. "There was a really good combination of people dealing with both sides of the question -- the abuser and the abused," she said.

Meanwhile, as the session was under way Monday at the national headquarters of the Daughters of Charity National Health System, eight members of a group called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests conducted a press conference at nearby St. Louis Cathedral.

SNAP announced it is launching a nationwide, four-month pledge drive asking each U.S. bishop to promise not to "attack" people who come forward with abuse allegations.

The pledge they want signed by bishops states: "I hereby pledge to not publicly attack victims and alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests. Specifically, I promise I will not countersue victims, release victims! names without their consent, release personal information about victims or take legal action against parents of victims."

David Clohessy, an organizer for SNAP in St. Louis, said the group wants to get the blessing of the think tank before proceeding with the pledge drive. "We wanted to work through the task force. ... But if we don't get an answer by next week, we might have to do it ourselves," he said. The sooner the bishops start signing, he added, the sooner the victims will know "who is really willing to listen to them."
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Title Annotation:National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Author:Edwards, Robin
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Mar 5, 1993
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