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US Catholics Prepare for Policy Meeting on Sex Abuse Cases - 2002-05-17

In a few weeks, Roman Catholic bishops from throughout the United States will gather in Dallas, where they are expected to develop a national policy on dealing with priests who sexually abuse young people. This coming Tuesday, Catholics throughout the Chicago area will be asked what they think that policy should look like.

Roman Catholics in the Chicago area can attend one of 30 public forums being held Tuesday evening. Anyone who wishes can speak for up to five minutes about the proposed policy for handling abusive priests.

The meetings were proposed by Chicago Cardinal Francis George, who wants to know what average Catholics think the church should do about priests who abuse young people.

"There is a lot of anger out there, some of it focused correctly, some of it diffused," he said. "Some of it is the result of discussions that have not always been as responsible as they ought to be and this is a way of having a responsible discussion so that the energy around this can be focused on creating policies that will take care of victims, protect children and enable the church to continue her mission."

For the last ten years, the Chicago Roman Catholic Archdiocese has had a policy that turns allegations of abuse by priests over to a committee of psychologists and church officials and members. The panel makes a recommendation to the cardinal. Allegations with merit are also turned over to local prosecutors for investigation.

People who speak at the public forums Tuesday do not have to identify themselves. Cardinal George says some are likely to use the meetings as a chance to vent their frustration with how the church has handled this scandal so far.

"I hope we will move to the policy, because that will give us something concrete to take to the meeting, but the venting, as you call it, is probably necessary and important, also," he said.

Members of the Catholic Lawyers Guild are running the meetings. A group of attorneys will combine the comments from Tuesday night's 30 forums into a report for Cardinal George to read before he flies to Dallas for the bishops' meeting in mid-June.