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Holding the hierarchy accountable. (CFFC Notebook).

The scandal over the sexual abuse of children and young people by Catholic priests has rocked the very foundations of the church in America. Ever since the Boston Globe's Spotlight team broke the story in January, Catholics have been in a state of perpetual shock as case after case of appalling abuse has hit the headlines.

As we did a year earlier when CFFC launched the Call to Accountability campaign highlighting the sexual abuse of women by priests, we knew it was time for us to stand in solidarity with the survivors of abuse. We knew we had to take immediate action to hold the church accountable. And, as the US cardinals flew to Rome to meet with Vatican officials, CFFC scrambled to bring this issue to the attention of the United Nations.

"Neither the United Nations nor its member states can ignore the systematic abuse of children and neither the United Nations nor its member states can ignore violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the Holy See, a UN Permanent Observer," said our press statement. We asked the Committee on the Rights of the Child to review what steps the Holy See intended to take to eliminate the abuse and protect the health and well being of children. It was obvious that without pressure from national governments and prestigious bodies such as the UN, this problem was not going to be addressed properly by the bishops or the Vatican.

As part of our effort, CFFC prepared a Shadow Report on the international aspects of this problem for the May 8-12 UN General Assembly Special Session on Children. We issued a statement signed by 31 organizations calling for justice. We also invited an international panel of experts to meet with members of the Committee and speak at a press conference for the UN and other media representatives. Frances Kissling, CFFC president, stated: "For years the Vatican has taken no steps to end sexual abuse in the church; it has turned a blind eye to high-ranking officials who have covered up such abuse. Even now, those responsible for the cover-ups, American cardinals, meet with the pope as respected and trusted colleagues. It's a bit like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop. The Holy See must demonstrate a zero-tolerance policy. Sexual abusers must be dismissed and defrocked promptly. High-ranking officials who have covered up abuse or impeded civil and criminal proceedings must resign or be dismissed. Most immediately this means Cardinal Law of Boston and Cardinal Egan of New York. Only then will we know the Holy See is serious. Only then can credible policy be established. To entrust the establishment of new policy to those who are responsible for the failures of the past is ludicrous."

The panel of experts included Jeffrey R. Anderson, attorney who has represented over 500 individuals abused by priests; Henk Baars, president of 8th of May Movement in the Netherlands; Roberto J. Blancarte, Ph.D., sociologist of religion and former counselor in the Mexican Embassy to the Holy See; Joseph E. Gallagher, Jr., co-founder of the Coalition of Concerned Catholics in Boston; Simon W. Kennedy, an attorney who has tried cases of Catholic clergy sexual abuse in Ireland; and Anthony T. Padovano, a Roman Catholic theologian.

We held a packed press conference in New York with members of the media from television, print and radio in attendance, including television crews from CBS, NBC4-Boston, WMBC-TV 63 (New York and New Jersey) and New York 1 cable. From fine print media we had Associated Press, Reuters, UPI, Newsday, the Nation, Final Call and Hoy Nueva York. Representatives from radio organizations included WPIX and WCBS. Many of the press remained afterwards and did one-on-one interviews with our panelists. Frances gave an interview to WMAL radio (the Charlie Warren Show) that evening and with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Newsworld Today show the following day. Fox, ABC and NBC TV in Boston all ran stories that night, as did New York 1 cable. KNX-AM radio (CBS Los Angeles) and WBZ-AM (CBS Boston) carried stories and interviews. Print and web articles included three Associated Press stories by different reporters, a very good UPI piece, several stories by the Inter-press News Service (a UN news agency with a focus on the developing world), Agence France Presse, two stories in the Boston Globe, Yahoo News Top Stories, two stories in Newsday, and strong Canadian coverage including St. John's Telegram, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record and the Calgary Herald. The foreign press also covered the story and we picked up a good story in Mexico's La Jornada.

Perhaps more important than the media coverage was the very positive reception we received from a member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. We met for breakfast with Judith Karp, the deputy attorney general of Israel, who welcomed our input and fully accepted that the Committee has the authority to discuss this issue with the Holy See. She indicated that our help in presenting the Committee with detailed information would be appreciated and treated seriously. We are working towards presenting our case to them in late September. This will be a long process, but CFFC was there to make sure that wherever the Vatican appears, we will speak out and remind them that they must act on these grave injustices.

After New York, we traveled to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting in Dallas where the bishops were to prepare their response to the scandal. CFFC was also preparing, this time with a group of 14 Catholic organizations and networks that forged a statement on urgent actions that the bishops need to take. The joint statement, "How to Reform An Abusive Church," makes specific recommendations about what the bishops need to do regarding survivors, priests and bishops who abuse minors, the abuse of power by church authorities, canon law and changes to church structure. The group also recommended actions that individual Catholics must take to respond to the crisis.

In Dallas, CFFC organized a hospitality suite at the hotel where the organizations lobbying the bishops were staying. It was a space where many groups met, where interviews took place and where a women's liturgy and multiple briefings happened and where activists could catch up on the latest news coverage of the bishops' meeting. Most importantly, CFFC put together a briefing for the media before the bishops' meeting opened where the press got to hear what reform Catholics had to say about the crisis. The Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, Newsday, CNN, USA Today, Time, NBC, the Los Angeles Times, CBS News, El Mundo, National Public Radio and the Denver Post amongst many others were there. The presence of the media at the breakfast briefing resulted in huge media coverage of the reform movement's perspective. Dignity USA, Women-Church Convergence, the Women's Ordination Conference, CORPUS and others hit the headlines. We immediately created a new online watchdog--www.bishopswatch.org--as a vehicle to continue to monitor the bishops and see that real change comes to our church. Frances Kissling rounded out the week with a feisty interview on CNN's Crossfire where she teamed up with James Carville to face down conservative Bob Novak's spin on the abuse crisis.

Frances also summed up how many felt at the end of the Dallas circus when she said, "Every abused woman knows the story: first they beat you up, then they shower you with love and apologies and promise they'll never do it again. This, unfortunately, is usually followed by another beating. Will the bishops' apology prove to be true to form? The history of self-centered arrogant disdain with which bishops have approached their critics and the survivors of clergy sexual abuse cannot be erased by the modest, even touching, show of civility seen in Dallas.

"The deeply ingrained clerical culture of abuse that shapes the behavior of many bishops and cardinals is unlikely to change even in the face of the public humiliation they endured in Dallas.

It is clear that the policy leaves too much power in the hands of the bishops and too little in the control of the faithful. It concentrates too much on procedures for the future and too little on correcting past errors. It leaves untouched the past or future crimes and misdeeds of bishops and cardinals. Until those bishops who have engaged in morally egregious misconduct are moved by personal conscience or a brotherly push to resign, the stain on the soul of the church cannot be washed clean."
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Title Annotation:sex abuse scandal faced by the Catholic Church
Author:O'Brien, John
Publication:Conscience
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2002
Words:1427
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