Saturday, April 17, 2010

ZenTiger The wave of the future

It's been mentioned that the Catholic Church has been reforming, and there have actually been several articles over the past few years (generally from a narrow band of Media sources) highlighting this. Here's a very recent one:

DENVER — The action against the priest was swift and public. Within five days of receiving a decades-old child sex abuse allegation against the Rev. Melvin Thompson, Denver’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese investigated, alerted law enforcement and announced his suspension to parishioners and the public.

The archdiocese says Thompson, 74, maintains his innocence. Some parishioners have complained the process was unfair and too fast. However Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput called prompt action “painful but necessary.”

Is 5 days too fast or too slow? I think, at the least you have to establish the people involved have a credible story - that dates and times roughly match up and that the Priest at least served at that time at that location. The damage done to some-one if the allegations turn out to be false, would be hard to reverse. Sounds to me like an acceptable time frame.

This week, the Vatican for the first time made it clear bishops and clerics worldwide should report such crimes to police if they are required to by law, matching a policy worked out by U.S. bishops after an explosion of sex abuse cases in 2002.

It had been the case, but they clarified it this week since the newspapers were trying to suggest the reverse. And it was an explosion of reporting decades old abuse cases, not new cases as such, due to changes in the Church back then. Badly worded.

“The church at this point is simply recognizing that children are more vulnerable than adults,” said Diane Knight, the retired head of Catholic Charities in Milwaukee and chairwoman of the National Review Board, an advisory panel created by U.S. bishops in 2002. “If we’re going to err, we’re going to err more on the side of protecting children.”

Look, a panel created back in that quoted year of "explosion of abuse cases". Things have been moving forward for some time now.

Policies approved by the Vatican as church law in the U.S. bar credibly accused priests from public ministry — including saying Mass and working as a parish priest — while allegations are investigated. Diocesan review boards, comprised mostly of lay people, help bishops oversee cases.

These policies of involving people outside the formal Church hierarchy have been in place for some time too. And approved by the Vatican. Hardly a system supporting cover-ups.

Initial inquiries to determine whether a claim is credible tend to focus on making sure dates and places named in allegations stand up. A more in-depth investigation, also involving lay diocesan review boards, is then carried out. Clergy found guilty are permanently barred from public ministry and, in some cases, ousted from the priesthood.

Plus what ever the courts do to them, and the diocese also suffers when damages are awarded, as they often are.

Under the 2002 reforms, U.S. bishops are to comply with state laws for reporting abuse, and to cooperate with authorities. All U.S. dioceses were also instructed to advise victims of their right to contact authorities themselves. Most cases are old and fall outside statutes of limitations, making criminal prosecution impossible.

And that's a secular issue. There needs to be balanced debate on the statute of limitations. However, I think the change in culture overall (both inside and outside the church) encourages reporting of these cases far sooner than previously, and that applies to all institutions.

“Prompt action is painful for the whole local church,” Chaput wrote, “but it’s a necessary course to protect people’s trust in their parish and in the archdiocese.”
Victims’ advocates, who have criticized the 2002 reforms for not going far enough, remain skeptical.

Thomas Plante, a Santa Clara University psychology professor who has counseled both victims and accused priests, said he found it curious a diocese would move so fast. When a clergyman, teacher, professor or Boy Scout leader is accused of child sexual abuse, it’s more typical to investigate fully before making public statements, he said.

“You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” said Plante, vice chairman of the National Review Board. “That’s part of the challenge now. People have demands and want to know, but we do have laws and due process for a reason.”
Monsignor Thomas Green, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, voiced a similar concern while emphasizing that the proper response to an allegation hinges on the circumstances.

Yes, the danger is that a rushed public statement can hurt falsely accused priests, and there have been clear cases of false accusations too. However, if the findings are public, then hopefully the public will bother to listen to the good news. I trust this is monitored and procedures are put in place to make this process as fair as possible to the accused and the victims.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, said there’s no way to fully investigate complaints confidentially. While terrible for an innocent priest, going public invites more victims to come forward and gives dioceses a better chance to reach the right conclusion, he said.

That's the key point really.

“I don’t know of any other way to handle this today, granted how badly the bishops handled it in the past,” Reese said. “My impression is this is the wave of the future.”

Yes, I think it is, and so it should be.

Source: Catholic Church Moving Faster on abuse allegations

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