Published February 29, 2004
The following is an excerpt from FOX News Sunday, Feb. 29, 2004.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: This week, an independent panel set up by Catholic bishops released two studies on sexual abuse in the church. Here are some of the startling findings.
Since 1950, 4 percent of U.S. priests, that's more than 4,000, have been accused of sexually abusing minors. There have been almost 11,000 alleged victims. Eighty-one percent were boys, mostly between the ages of 11 and 14. And the sex abuses cases peaked in the 1970s.
So what's next for the Catholic Church? For answers, we turn to Illinois Justice Anne Burke, head of the National Review Board that released the studies. She joins us from Chicago. And the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Wilton Gregory, who's in St. Louis.
And welcome to both of you. Good to have you here.
ANNE BURKE, ILLINOIS APPELLATE COURT JUSTICE: Good morning, Chris.
WALLACE: Bishop Gregory, I want to start with you and with something that you said when the studies was released. Let me put it up on the screen. You said, "The terrible history recorded here today is history."
Are you suggesting that the church has cleaned its house?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY, PRESIDENT OF THE CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: Chris, the bishops of the United States, acting on the promises that we made in Dallas, have taken every conceivable step to make sure that there is no cleric who has an accusation of sexual abuse of minors in public office. We have been true to our word. There is more work to be done.
WALLACE: But let me ask you, the report also said that there must be consequences for bishops and church leaders who abuse their role. Do you, in fact, believe that all of the church officials have faced the consequences?
GREGORY: Well, one of the things that we need to do as a body of bishops is to receive and to discuss the recommendations. Obviously, the question of responsibility is an important one. It's important to the community of the church, and it's important to the bishops.
So we need to look at that, to see and to study, as Mr. Bennett himself said in releasing the report last Friday, we need to look at all of the circumstances in each of the individual cases.
WALLACE: Justice Burke, do you believe that all that you uncovered in these two reports is history? Basically, the same questions I asked Bishop Gregory: Do you, in fact, feel that all church leaders have faced the consequences of their actions? And given the limits of the report that you conducted, do you, in fact, believe that all the abusive priests have been found and ousted from the church?
BURKE: Well, that's one of the reasons, Chris, we had the audits in January. Dr. Kathleen McChesney's office, which was started under the Office of Child and Youth Protection under Article 9 of the charter that the bishops enacted in June, Dallas, 2002, we've gone around the country to 195 dioceses trying to assure that.
However, nothing is perfect. We still have to do more audits, and we still have to make sure that the procedures are in place throughout the country so it won't happen again, so there will be no more victims.
BURKE: There have to be lay review boards. There has to be background checks. There has to be accountability throughout the country, and standardized programs so that environments will be safe for children.
And hopefully, there will be no priest in ministry now that has been accused, with allegations against minors.
WALLACE: Leaders of the main victims' groups, there's an organization called SNAP, which is Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, have a lot of problems with the studies and also with the church's response, and this may be the biggest one. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): The information that Catholics need, that the public needs, is not a number. It's names. These are known sex offenders. We need to know their names. We have a right to know their names. Catholics have a right to know their names. And they need to know if they've been in their parish or their school.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Let me ask you both, and starting with you, Justice Burke, why not give out the names? I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who would like to know where these abusive priests have gone and, in fact, whether they may have become teachers or camp counselors.
BURKE: Well, that is something, I think, for the local diocese, and I think SNAP is correct in suggesting that on a local level that they could encourage the bishop to do that.
However, the confines of this particular research was under the auspices of the charter. And the bishops wanted to know the nature and the scope of this problem in the United States. So that is a descriptive study. That means numbers.
And, clearly, the next step could be the release of the names. But we have to start somewhere. And just needing to know how broad of a problem this has been since 1950 to the present was in a very important historic moment in the Catholic Church.
It was a self-audit by its own nature. That means that the information comes from the diocese themselves. And over a period of time, with 195 diocese, you have to understand that there might have been poor record-keeping or no record-keeping.
So what we do know from this study is the information that's in the diocese, to the best of their knowledge, of who has been accused. And this is a beginning point.
And of course, we already know that there may be more out that have not come forward, the victims have not come forward. The study clearly shows that it takes 10 years, 15 years, 20 years and 30 years down the line for them to feel ready to come forward. And that has been the pattern.
So we still don't know yet how many more victims there are out there, and we're hoping that this study might even suggest to them when they're ready to come forward.
WALLACE: Bishop Gregory, let me ask you about what Justice Burke just said. Would you, as the head of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, would you call on local church leaders to release the names of these priests so people in the local communities can know, can try to check out where these abusive priests have gone?
GREGORY: Chris, in my capacity as president of the Conference, I don't have the authority to command an individual bishop to release the names.
I do know that a number of dioceses have done just that, that they have released all of the names of those who have been accused. And in many locations, the news media itself, journalists, have released the names, based on their own surveys and their own following of bishops.
WALLACE: Bishop, I'm not asking if you can command it, but I'm asking you right now: Do you can call on local church leaders to release the names of all these 4,000-plus priests so people in communities can check out where they are?
GREGORY: I call on the body of bishops to discuss that together, because it is a decision that we have to pursue together. And once we've come to a decision, it is up to the local bishop to enact that decision.
WALLACE: But isn't there the danger, sir, if you don't do that — and all you're saying now is you're going to discuss it — couldn't this be one more case where church leaders are protecting the priests or protecting the institution rather than worrying about the children?
GREGORY: It could be one more case, Chris, where individual bishops who have names and have been in conversation with victims are being sensitive to victims who have asked specifically that a name not be released.
It could be the case, Chris, that an individual bishop is responding to the legal limitations that he must follow. And, after all, one of the things that the body of bishops has been accused is not obeying laws, and there are laws in place in local jurisdictions that prohibit the release of information from personnel files.
So bishops have to grapple with both what must be done to protect children, but also what must be done to follow the legal limitations and restrictions under which we work.
WALLACE: Justice Burke, does the church — because there's certainly talk about this in your report — and briefly, do you believe the church needs to change its policies and practices with regard to celibacy and with regard to allowing gay priests into the ministry?
BURKE: Our report does touch on that, and it does not conclude that either one of those is a cause for the current crisis.
And I think it's a subject for further study. The board has to commission another study, which is a much larger epidemiological study, for the causes and context of that.
And I think it is ripe for a discussion. And I think that the board's recommendations for further study on that issue is the beginning point for that discussion.
WALLACE: Bishop Gregory, do you think there needs to be a change in either the church's policies or practices with regards to gays and celibacy?
GREGORY: Well, first of all, I believe that the study recommended that we give serious consideration of examining potential candidates for the seminary who may have homosexual orientation. That is certainly something that the body of bishops is already considering. And in fact, most seminaries do do a very careful job of screening and reviewing those factors before admitting a seminarian.
What the celibacy issue seems to suggest is that celibacy itself is a source of child abuse, or a factor. And we simply don't know that, Chris.
As a matter of fact, what we do know is that, at least anecdotally, because right now the only scientific study that's out there is the study that has been commissioned by the Catholic Church — what we don't know is what is the percentage of child abuse among the broader segment of society, which includes men and women who are married or certainly not celibate.
WALLACE: Bishop Gregory, we have about a minute left, and I can't let you go without asking you about the movie "The Passion." One, are you concerned about the violence in the movie? And two, are you concerned about the portrayal of Jews?
GREGORY: Well, first of all, Chris, I must confess I have not seen it. And the other day, a few Catholics asked me, do I plan to see it? At this point, I haven't had a lot of time to go to the movies.
However, it seems to me that it's a significant movie. It seems that it invites serious conversation. And if young people are to see it, people under 17, I strongly urge that their parents watch it with them so that they can exercise their parental care for those children for whom this might be disturbing.
WALLACE: From what you've read — and obviously the vast majority of Americans are not going to actually see it — are you concerned with is portrayal of Jews and their responsibility for the death of Christ?
GREGORY: The Catholic Church has worked very, very hard, especially under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, to make sure that we do not fall victims to anti-Semitism. So if there is the hint of anti-Semitism within the movie — and I don't know because I haven't seen it — it certainly runs counter to what we as Catholics believe should be our position in the public arena.
WALLACE: Justice Burke, Bishop Gregory, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you both very much for coming in today to discuss this very important issue.
BURKE: Thank you.
GREGORY: Thank you.