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Archbishop holds meetings to address abuse

From June 2002:

"We come together to rededicate ourselves, to rededicate the archdiocese to the cause of children and the protection of children," Archbishop Justin Rigali told almost 200 archdiocesan employees at a May 30 meeting at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Shrewsbury.

The meeting was one of several being conducted with different groups within the archdiocese, at which the Archbishop is addressing the issue of sexual abuse by priests. The meetings come just prior to the U.S. bishops' meeting in Dallas June 13-15. The bishops are expected to discuss the possibility of developing a national policy on clergy sexual abuse of minors.

Thanking the archdiocesan employees for their attendance at the meeting and their continued efforts on behalf of the archdiocese, Archbishop Rigali said, "You have been within this circle, this whirlwind ... you have shared as associates of the archdiocese in the work of the archdiocese and in the hurt that has taken place."

The Archbishop began the meeting with a prayer, then once again apologized on behalf of the archdiocese to all the victims of abuse.

"We know how sinful, how alien this is to the Gospel, how contrary to human decency, how contrary to the commandments of God this is," he said.

Thanking the many archdiocesan agencies who have helped during the current crisis, Archbishop Rigali pointed out their participation in not only sharing the hurt, but assisting in the healing.

"Our aim in all of this is to extirpate, to root out completely the terrible sin of sexual abuse of minors," Archbishop Rigali said. "And to make sure in particular that children are always safe in our Church. That is absolutely necessary."

He cited the many programs doing so much to achieve this goal, but then said, "What we need is something very radical ... All of us, priests and people, deacons and religious, young and old, single and married, the entire community - we are talking about a radical rediscovery of what the Church stands for and a radical recommitment to what the Church stands for."

He urged a recommitment to the integrity, holiness, purity and honesty of the Church.

"We want to continue to be the type of Church we have to be," the Archbishop said, "The type of Church that puts children first."

Archbishop Rigali discussed the response of the archdiocese to the clergy abuse crisis, including the more stringent policy of never assigning a priest with a substantiated case of abuse to a parish or any ministry with children.

The archdiocesan Web site contains a new section called "Protecting Our Children," which contains copies of the archdiocesan policies on child abuse along with other pertinent information.

The Archbishop also stressed to the assembled employees that the archdiocese continues to apologize to any victims and to try to provide for them, and encourages them to go to appropriate legal authorities.

"We will collaborate with the proper authorities," he stressed.

"Even as we admit these terrible sins, we must remember (there) are times of false accusations and must defend against those as we proceed with the complete extirpation of this terrible sin," the Archbishop said.

"We should be very proud to be part of the Church ... and what has been accomplished for children over the years," Archbishop Rigali said. "We have to rely on the power of God. On our own, we will sink. With God's help, we can recommit ourselves to what we really stand for."

Also addressing the group was Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Dolan, who heads the archdiocesan sexual abuse advisory committee.

"This is a tremendous time of dying and rising," said Bishop Dolan. "If we don't interpret this as joining with Jesus on the cross, we are really shot."

Saying that there is "tremendous dying among the priests who are overwhelmingly devastated," Bishop Dolan continued, "I also see so much rising among the priests. As Archbishop Rigali says, we can settle for no less than holiness of life."

Bishop Dolan said he had sat with abuse victims and their families and was aware of the "tremendous suffering."

Bishop Dolan also discussed several archdiocesan initiatives related to the sexual abuse issue, including the recent Priest Study Days that focused on issues of healthy living, celibacy and spirituality. And he mentioned several archdiocesan committees that deal with the issue of sexual abuse.

Among others who spoke at the meeting was Bernard C. Huger, legal counsel for the archdiocese, who is a principal with Greensfelder, Hemker and Gale.

Responding to a question from the audience, Huger said, "The St. Louis Archdiocese will respond to any subpoenas seeking records of priests from prosecuting attorneys or other law enforcement authorities. We do not just turn over the records of priests who have had allegations made against them."

Huger said, this is the policy not just for priests, but for all archdiocesan employees.

"There is a lot of confidential, private information in the records of priests and other employees," Huger said. "This is a privacy issue."

In addition, in cases not involving a current minor, many times the person making the accusation does not want the matter turned over to the legal authorities, he added.

Huger stressed that the St. Louis Archdiocese provides "full cooperation" with prosecuting attorneys and other law enforcement officials. The policy of not automatically turning over personnel records applies to allegations made by adults, he added.

"When an allegation involves someone under 18 at the time the complaint is made, that must by law be reported to the Missouri Division of Family Services," Huger said.

Archbishop Rigali and Bishop Dolan answered a number of questions from the audience, including "What is being done to keep our good priests going?"

Bishop Dolan replied, "When you listen to priests in the front lines, you will hear that even in this time of trial they have found it very consoling that people have expressed tremendous affection and respect for them."

A question was asked about the money used to pay settlements to victims of abuse.

"No money is used for victim settlements from the Archdiocesan Development Appeal," said Archbishop Rigali.

"To date settlements in sexual abuse cases have cost the Archdiocese of St. Louis approximately $1.6 million. None of this has come from insurance," said Huger, explaining it comes from other archdiocesan funds. "The insurance companies have not paid because they believe the archdiocese would not be found to have liability. But we have taken a different position."

Huger continued, "This is that, if people have been victimized, the archdiocese should help them. The archdiocese is voluntarily paying to help people and I think that is appropriate."

Funds for victims, Huger said, do not go for unspecified injuries, but only actual costs and needs, such as therapy. And when there is a confidentiality agreement, it never discourages a victim from going to the authorities, he stressed. Huger also stated that, in any case where a person requested not to have a confidentiality agreement, it was not included.

Archbishop Rigali was asked about priests who could no longer be assigned to parishes. "What else is there for them?" an audience member asked.

Archbishop Rigali said "This is something that the American bishops will discuss in their upcoming meeting (in Dallas this month). We would like to see these priests utilized ... but (as for assigning them to parishes) we simply cannot take the chance. We cannot overemphasize the dignity of each individual, even those who have offended. But that brings us back to the dignity of the victimized children."

The Archbishop again thanked all the employees and said, "We want to end on a note of hope and confidence. It is a moment of tremendous crisis, but also of hope and renewal."

Archbishop Rigali is planning additional meetings with other archdiocesan groups. He is meeting with lay leaders representing parishes on Sunday evening, June 9, at St. Raymond Co-Cathedral on the near Southside, and on Monday evening, June 17, with permanent deacons and their wives at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Shrewsbury.

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