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Denver Archdiocese Changes Policy Toward Pedophile Priests

Aired March 31, 2002 - 11:34   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: For Catholics around the nation this year's Easter services are celebrated under a dark cloud. A wide spread priest sex abuse scandal has left many members confused and angry. It's been the subjects of Sunday sermons and public apologies.

But, as CNN's Jeff Flock reports, the Denver archdiocese didn't wait for a public outcry to change its policy toward priests who abuse children.


ARCHBISHOP CHARLES CHAPUT, DENVER DIOCESE: Any sexual misconduct by any priest in the church ...

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They've talked about it in the pulpits, have a longstanding policy of how to handle it and have even refuse to restore an accused priest to ministry when a lawsuit against him was thrown out.

CHAPUT: I believe that no priest dangerous to children serves in any ministry in the archdiocese in Denver.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it was something that was extremely necessary to be done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're taking a stand and I think that is wonderful.

FLOCK: How do you think they're doing? "Pretty good," says Denver DA Bill Ritter, who asked Catholic Church leaders to meet with him and talk about priest sex abuse.

BILL RITTER, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, DENVER: Look me in the eye and tell me that you're doing all you can to protect the kids of this community by reporting those incidents that come to your attention. They did that.

FLOCK: Ritter was concerned because while Colorado law makes it a crime not to report cases of sexual abuse.

The law applies to psychiatrists, other doctors, social workers. The only people it doesn't apply to are priests and other clergy.

But Denver archdiocese policy adopted over a decade ago mandates that sexual abuse by priests be reported to authorities. Every priest must sign their acknowledgement as a condition of service.

CHAPUT: Any violation is grounds for immediate termination or suspension.

FLOCK: The archbishop here, Charles Chaput, ordered a letter he wrote about the policy to be read in every pulpit.

TOM KERWIN, CATHOLICS FOR THE SPIRIT OF VATICAN II: The archbishop's letter was a nothing.

FLOCK: Tom Kerwin, who heads a church reform group, reviewed the policy with us and says it has a loophole exempting priests who hear the confessions of other priests.

KERWIN: They want to keep it in-house. I call it Cosa Nostra -- our thing, their thing. they don't want the press involved, they don't want me involved, they don't want the parents involved.

FLOCK: And that, say other critics is exactly who should be involved.

KATHY COFFEY, AUTHOR, "DANCING IN THE MARGINS": Open it up to women, married people, parents.

FLOCK: Kathy Coffey, who wrote a book for people who don't agree with church policy, wants people other than celibate men to be priests.

FLOCK: Why will that make it better?

COFFEY: I suspect that if a parent had been involved in Boston from the get go they would not have reassigned that man.

FLOCK: The Denver archdiocese has refused ours and other's requests for an interview but the facts of the only public case of alleged priest sex abuse here speak for themselves.

This priest, Father Marshall Gorely (ph), was removed from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church when someone accused him of abuse. But even though no criminal charges were ever filed and a civil lawsuit was thrown out, Gorely (ph) still hasn't been restored.

(on camera): While still fighting for his ministry back, Gorely (ph) tells CNN he partly understands the church's position. Having done too little for too long church officials apparently believe erring on the side of caution is its best bet for salvation.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, in Denver.


WHITFIELD: Clearly, apologies alone aren't enough to reassure all of the faithful. So how far will the Catholic Church have to go to win back the trust that has been lost?

Eugene Kennedy is a former Priest and Professor Emeritus at Loyola University. he is a columnist as well and the author of "The Unhealed Wound." He recently wrote a column for "The Chicago Tribune" which was called "Official Catholicism -- The Enron of Religious Institutions."

Thanks, Mr. Kennedy, for joining us.


WHITFIELD: Well, so far at least in this country at least 80 priests have been associated in some capacity with child sexual abuse cases in this country. The solutions lie where -- at the Vatican or in the diocese across the country?

KENNEDY: Well, I believe that the solutions lie in the churches and people of God. Many of the ordinary people who are the parishioners understand that they themselves are the church -- it isn't just the buildings and it is not just the higher archs or the popes. This is something the Catholic people feel that they should be a part of and they are absolutely correct about that.

The real question is not to formulate a policy so late in the game -- perhaps be over strict in it and err to admit they are erring in a more conservative way, it is to ask a far more fundamental question and that is -- how could this have ever happened in the first place?

Until that question is asked -- until they allow lay people who are, in fact, the church as much as the Pope and the bishops, we will never be able to understand this phenomenon and we will never be able to make enough rules or have enough cautions afterwards to make up for not understanding it in-depth.

WHITFIELD: For the victims, so many of whom are adults now, how fair would it be or how respectful, too, would it be to involve them in trying to bring about a solution to help restore the lost trust?

KENNEDY: I believe that victims have been involved in developing policies as they were by the late Joseph -- Cardinal Bernadin (ph) of Chicago, who was frustrated in his efforts to try to get the National Conference of Bishops to look into this issue in the mid '80s.

He then turned to his own archdiocese and formed groups to have a conversation and work in collaboration with them including victims and including priests to develop the policies that he then issued and, in fact, when he was falsely accused of sexual abuse, subjected himself to.

That is the welcome, open attitude that characterizes what the church is at it's best.

WHITFIELD: So do you believe at this juncture is there a reasonable, solid solution in which to prevent yet another wave of such a wide spread disease that has plagued the Catholic Church.

KENNEDY: Well, I don't believe we're going to have any answers through regulations necessarily. i hope they would offer protections. The post factums solution ignore the factum and the fact that we should have looked into its origins and dealt with that problem.

It isn't too late to do that. It isn't too late to begin to try to understand how this could have occurred. The best step toward doing that is to allow as much sunlight and fresh air into this issue as possible.

If there has been a lack of health, sunlight and fresh air are good for anything.

The only things that grow well outside of sunlight and fresh air are things on the underside of things. this has been on the underside too long. We need to turn it over and let the play of sunlight and fresh air, allowing as much inspection, as much participation as possible on the part of good and understanding people to look at this.

That's absolutely the best possible way to deal with this now.

WHITFIELD: Pope John Paul II said in his statement, "We are personally and profoundly afflicted." He acknowledged the pain that the church and its parishioners have been dealing with and have succumbed to but some critics say he didn't go far enough to actually condemn the acts and actually make any resolution toward solving the problem.

Are you satisfied with the Pope's most recent statements?

KENNEDY: Well, I don't believe that the Pope really understands the problem or at least he does not seem to. He does not really understand that this is not the problem of the church as a church -- that is a steward of the mysteries and as a source of the sacraments, this is the problem of the church as an organization. He's the head of that organization.

It's the problem of a hierarchal church that hierarchies or all kinds try to control information at the top. That's been one of the fatal flaws in this.

Hierarchy is a form that has been spent of its usefulness in Catholicism as it has in every other structure in the world.

To address that problem we see the people who are suffering perhaps the most out of this are, in fact, hierarchies themselves, like Cardinal Law (ph) of Boston exposed to so much criticism.

It is, in fact, somehow endemic of this system where so much control comes from the top down and where so little is allowed from participation from the bottom up that begs the Pope to restore the kind of collegian church that was the great work of Vatican II.

WHITFIELD: And quickly may I ask you, Mr. Kennedy -- how disheartening and saddening is it that this scandal has so cast a dark cloud on this Holy Week?

KENNEDY: Well, it is infinity sad, of course, but the Catholic church is used to sin and it is used to forgiveness. It is used to looking at the causes of things and it is fully capable of doing this.

The good shepherds of this church need to remember that they are not CEOs of organizations that have to protect assets and follow the advice of lawyers, insurers and PR advisers, they are pastors whose first commitment is to safe guard the flock and especially the youngest members of the flock.

WHITFIELD: All right -- former Priest Eugene Kennedy and the book is "The Unhealed Wound." thank you very much for joining us on this Easter Sunday. I appreciate it.

KENNEDY: Thank you.





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