Are Bishops Prepared to Address Problems?

"The light snapped on" at last year's Dallas conference, Georgetown theologian Chester Gillis recalls. The bishops said, "'We have to change, we have no choice.' Now, once they put a policy in place, did some kick and scream, and still delay? I think some did. I think it's very hard to change habits."

But in demonstrations from Chicago to Los Angeles, an angry Catholic laity wants to know why it is taking so long to implement last year's reforms. "How many children of God's lives do they have to ruin before they start to do something?" a California protester asked.

Laity Leads the Way

In Orange County, Calif., Joelle Casteix also quit a local diocese board advising the Church on sex abuse issues. "The meetings degenerated into these whining sessions about protecting the privacy of these priests," Casteix, who herself was molested by a Catholic high school teacher, recounts. "I was horrified. The only concern was that documents stay out of the hands of the media and prosecutors."

But fellow board member Barbara Phillips feels the local panel is "doing very well. We have established our protocol for response to victims, we have very dedicated volunteers," she explains. "We have a staff from the diocese that provide us assistance as required."

Such layperson panels, from the National Review Board on down, may become more influential. "What we're seeing is a lot of victims feeling betrayed, feeling disillusioned, feeling like if there is going to be change, it's not going to be coming from the bishops," says David Clohessy of Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "So, we've got to do it ourselves. We've got to get the lawmakers and the prosecutors and the legislators and the police to do more."

In the meantime, the National Review Board is compiling data for a report that will attempt to outline and explain how the Church ended up in crisis, and how it can get out. "Generally, I am satisfied the mechanisms are in place, and are in some instances being put into place, that we will largely eliminate this as a problem in the future," attorney Bennett says. "This board is going to be issuing a public report, and you can be sure that if there's some bishop or diocese that's not complying, the world is going to know about it."

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