Proposed Catholic policy aims for healing

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Two extremes of the Roman Catholic church have received considerable attention in the pages of the Southeast Missourian in recent days.

One extreme has been the stories about the American church's handling of reports of sexual abuse by clergymen. The other extreme was the fanfare of the ordination of a priest, one of only three such ordinations held in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese in the past dozen years.

Both sets of stories, of course, have largely overlooked the thousands of Catholics across southern Missouri and the millions throughout the nation -- along with their God-fearing deacons, priests and bishops -- who faithfully strive to lead Christian lives and worship earnestly and devoutly.

This vast majority of Catholics in the pews and at the altar is the target of the church's Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, which has received considerable attention because of the policy it is writing to address the multiplying reports of sinful activity by some priests.

The policy, while outlining the ramifications for ordained ministers who step over the bounds of appropriate behavior, is an effort to persuade the faithful that the church will no longer tolerate these offenses and their accompanying secrecy as it strives to deal charitably with its sexual offenders.

The first big step toward that assurance is the policy's requirement for reporting all allegations of sexual misconduct to civil authorities, which, in most cases, would be the local police department. Priests would no longer be shielded from the investigations and public recriminations that accompany such a charge.

Although many within and outside the Catholic church hoped for a policy of zero tolerance, the bishops only got close. Any priest who is found in the future to have violated his vows through sexual misconduct would be removed from all priestly duties. In addition, past offenders who have been involved in more than one incident also would be removed. Those with just one offense on their records would be evaluated for future ministries.

Another key point of the policy is that bishops would no longer be permitted to enter into secret civil agreements -- arrangements in which the church has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on settlements in recent years-- unless the victim insists.

There are still some unknowns regarding the proposed policy. First, will it pass muster with the Vatican? Second, what happens to a bishop who chooses to ignore the policy?

All of this is in stark contrast to the jubilation and outpouring of love and support that surrounded Friday night's ordination of Patrick Nwokoye to the priesthood at St. Mary's Cathedral.

For Catholics throughout the area, the prayerful hope is that there will be more events like Nwokoye's ordination to read about in future weeks, months and years.

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