The Media
Church in Crisis
Bishop proposes registry of accused clergy

Jan 10, 2003 - Though the U.S. bishops’ conference has yet to create such a database, in a proposal made last spring, Evansville, Ind., Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger advocated compiling a registry of priests alleged to have sexually abused children.

He made the proposal to St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop Harry Flynn, chair of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, so that bishops would be able to check to see if a priest new to his diocese had ever abused a child. He suggested the list could be created before the issue of whether or not to make it public was addressed.

He said he did not receive a response to his proposal. He told NCR Dec. 11 that at the June bishops’ conference “There was an allusion made about the issue. The allusion was that it may not be legal.

“My concern is that the need is still there,” he said. “The problem is we have people who have not been convicted because of the statute of limitations and there’s no longer a way to prosecute.”

Gettelfinger said that at the June bishops’ conference he backed the idea of creating safe houses to keep abusers away from children. “Second,” he said, “we have to let it be known that some are guilty even if they are not being prosecuted.”

While no registry is being planned, part of the charter for the bishops’ National Review Board, headed by Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, calls for study of the problem. A subcommittee of the group led by Dr. Alice Bourke Hayes, a biologist and president of the University of San Diego, has been asked to plan research into the nature and scope of clergy sex abuse.

Hayes told NCR Dec. 13 that the board is considering either hiring an independent group to undertake a thorough study, or to begin taking steps to conduct it themselves.

She said that the study would include an examination of information from individual dioceses. “It does seem that some records have been kept very confidential, and the only source for that information will be the dioceses. So I think that is going to have to be done,” she said.

“We need to get accurate information from the diocese. We need to get information from the courts about who has been charged legally. We need to get the information that has been widely available in the media and other publications. We think that the number may not be as extensive as people have thought.”

She said that the results of the study would be made available to the public at some point: “It is our intention to have an annual report that will be public. …You know the goal is to be helpful to the church and to be more transparent for the laity,” she said.

Asked when the review board could first release such results, Hayes said, “I would think the first opportunity would be probably next fall, but that’s just a guess.

“There is no date decided on at all.”

-- Gill Donovan

National Catholic Reporter, January 10, 2003

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