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Archbishop applies more restrictive standard

From March 2002:

Archbishop Justin Rigali has announced a more restrictive standard for the placement of priests who have had allegations of sexual misconduct.

The new standard means that no priest assigned to a parish or other ministry with children has a substantiated allegation of child abuse. Two pastors who have had past allegations, but under the previous policy were believed by the monitoring committee to pose no risk to minors, have resigned from their parishes.

"This new standard provides that no priest with any substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor will be assigned to any parish or any ministry with children in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, even though they have been evaluated as posing no risk," Archbishop Rigali said in a statement on the more stringent standard.

Until now, the archdiocesan sexual abuse advisory committee could recommend that a priest might be placed in a parish setting after professional evaluation and treatment, and with appropriate monitoring, if the committee believed the priest posed no risk to minors. The committee, under the direction of Auxiliary Bishop Timothy M. Dolan, recommended that the two priests not continue in their parish ministry as a result of the more restrictive standard. The accusations against the two priests date back more than a dozen years.

In 1996 the archdiocese issued an updated pastoral policy and procedures for cases in which an archdiocesan priest or deacon is accused of the sexual abuse of a minor. The policy established a coordinator of victim assistance and an advisory committee of clergy, health care professionals and laypeople to consult with the archbishop. When the committee finds that a complaint is both credible and serious the clergyman is asked to leave his present assignment immediately.

In his statement March 1, Archbishop Rigali noted that the policy emphasizes that victims of such abuse are the primary concern of the archdiocese and that appropriate assistance should be available to them.

"As in the past, I encourage those who believe they are victims of abuse by anyone to come to the Church or to civil authorities so that appropriate assistance can be offered," Archbishop Rigali wrote.

Bishop Dolan said the two pastors who have resigned from their parish duties, Father Joseph Ross of St. Cronan Parish in Midtown St. Louis and Father Michael Campbell of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in South St. Louis, will never serve again in a parish or in any ministry with children. He said the specific assignment for them is not determined yet.

For now, duties at St. Cronan are being handled by Father Jim Krings, chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital in Kirkwood who is in residence at the parish. Our Lady of Sorrows has a full-time associate pastor, Father Gary P. Wolken. Father Bradley Modde, who works full time at St. Mary's High School, and Bishop Dolan, who also lives at the parish, will handle duties.

"We're already meeting to get a pastor for Our Lady of Sorrows," Bishop Dolan said, adding that it is the largest parish in the City of St. Louis.

Bishop Dolan said that for Catholics of the archdiocese, "this is a time to join us in a reinforced effort to see to the safety and welfare of our children."

He also cited the need for solidarity with priests of the archdiocese and the people of the parishes affected by the resignations of their pastors. Restoring trust in the Church is also paramount, the Bishop added.

The new standard comes amid new national attention to the issue of sexual abuse of minors by priests. The recent criminal trial of John J. Geoghan, a defrocked Boston priest who allegedly molested more than 130 children during 30-plus years as a priest, generated new public attention to the issue.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has posted a series of articles on the topic on its Web site . Bishop John F. Kinney of St. Cloud, Minn., who headed the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, wrote an article on restoring trust. He noted that although critics accuse the Church of doing too little too late on the issue, his committee found that "Catholic dioceses have been as quick as most other religious and professional groups in developing guidelines and taking action to deal with sexual abuse."

In St. Louis, the 1996 archdiocesan policy was built on a commitment to victims of abuse first formulated in 1983 and a 1990 policy covering employees, volunteers, religious and clergy and addressing the needs of victims of child abuse.

The policy states that the archdiocese is committed to the prevention of all child abuse. The sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or a deacon "is of special concern because it is a serious violation of the mission of the Church and of the clergyman's commitment," the policy explains.

Under the archdiocesan policy, the coordinator of victim assistance has the duty of communicating with victims and alleged victims of sexual abuse of a minor by a member of the clergy. The coordinator must be a professional person with experience in counseling and in dealing with sex abuse cases.

The coordinator's duties include interviewing those with a complaint and preparing a report, maintaining communication with victims, keeping victims informed of actions with the clergyman and seeking information on other possible victims from victims or their parents.

Persons bringing a complaint of sexual abuse of a minor are referred to the coordinator. The policy provides for a separation of responsibilities in dealing with the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator.

The advisory committee reviews individual complaints and advises the archbishop on notification of parishioners about allegations, action needed after an evaluation of the clergyman and further action or a return to ministry of a clergyman after treatment.

In cases where accusations concern the abuse of a minor that is recent or ongoing, the advisory committee forms a task force to communicate with the parish or school community and to offer assistance to the community.

When a priest from another diocese or a member of a religious community requests to work in the archdiocese, certification is required to ensure there is nothing in the priest's background that would make him unable to work with minors.

In his statement, Archbishop Rigali said he recognizes that the two resignations are difficult for parish members and all involved, "but we trust in God's help."

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