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Dallas meeting disappoints many. (signs of the times).

Opinions differ about whether the U.S. bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" went far enough, but there was agreement about whether the June meeting in Dallas adequately addressed many of the broader "big picture" issues raised by the pedophilia scandal. Those expecting or hoping for a radically different way of doing things were sadly disappointed.

"It was just window dressing," says Luise Dittrich, a founding member of Voice of the Faithful, a Massachusetts-based group of laity that organized in the wake of the crisis in Boston. "They think they can keep the bigger issues from surfacing if they make enough noise about the symptom--abuse of children. But the underlying causes were not addressed at all."

One of the few lay people selected to address the bishops in Dallas warned as much in his remarks. Scott Appleby of the University of Notre Dame noted that many Catholics are more upset over abuses of power and lack of accountability on the part of bishops than they are about the small minority of priests who have sexually abused minors.

"At the heart of these problems is the alienation of the hierarchy, and to a lesser degree many of the clergy, from ordinary lay women and lay men," Appleby said. "An enormous mistake would be to adopt prudent, courageous, and enforceable policies regarding sexual abuse at this meeting, and then think that the work of reform has been accomplished."

Of course, problems as old as clericalism, abuse of power, and strained relations between the hierarchy and laity could hardly be solved during a two-day meeting. The bishops admit such limitations in the document: "In this charter we focus specifically on the painful issue at hand," it says. "However, in this matter, we do wish to affirm our concern especially with regard to issues related to effective consultation of the laity and the participation of God's people in decision-making that affects their well-being."

Whether the bishops will take up that larger issue in the near future remains to be seen, as does question of whether everyday Catholics--or the media--will tire of this topic anytime soon. Dittrich of Voice of the Faithful has some concerns that "fatigue" might set in. "Even an inflamed Catholic laity can reach a saturation point and then you lose your edge," she says. "But I'm optimistic. The American Catholic laity is awake now, and we're not going to let it rest."
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Title Annotation:Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
Words:405
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