Can the Catholic Church Stop Abuse by Priests?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Feb. 27, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I restate and reaffirm our apologies to all of you who have been harmed by those among us who violated your trust and the promises they made at their ordination.


JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST HOST AND FNC SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST: America's Catholic bishops say sexual abuse by priests was a bigger problem than anyone ever realized. But they promise it's all in the past.

David Clohessey (search) is head of the Survivors' Network of those who have been abused by Priests. They call their organization SNAP (search) for short. He joins me now from Washington, D.C.

And David, today's big question: is the Catholic Church now, today, doing enough to prevent more abuse?

DAVID CLOHESSEY, HEAD OF SNAP: Well, I wish we could say yes. There certainly has been a lot of motion, there's been a lot of activity, not necessarily progress.

The focus has been on paperwork and policies and procedures, not on substantive change. So, we think the church has a long way to go still in order to keep kids really safe.

NAPOLITANO: Well, one of those procedures is a substantive change, and I think you'll agree with me, and that's the zero-tolerance policy.

In the old days, of course, not only was it not zero tolerance, but a priest could be a repetitive pedophile over a course of generations. Now one charge, one charge with an evidence to support it and you're out.

Isn't that progress, David, in the right direction?

CLOHESSEY: Yes, it is progress. Unfortunately, it's still sporadically implemented. The policy has been in effect for less than a year. So, it's a little premature to say it's fundamental change and it's working, but, yes, indeed, it is progress. There's no denying that.

NAPOLITANO: All right. We're going to put some numbers up on the screen now. And these are from the report which came out earlier today.

Now, this report was prepared by the Bishops National Review Board. These are not the bishops. This is an independent lay group whom the bishops appointed to investigate them.

And you can see the numbers. They are horrific. Ten thousand victims, 10 percent unsubstantiated claims, 20 percent not investigated, involving 4,400 priests from the time period of 1952 up to the present.

Isn't this a positive step, David, that a number as horrifying as this — 4,400 priests, 10,000 victims — would be made known and made public for everyone to see and scrutinize?

CLOHESSEY: Well, it's important to remember, Judge, that these figures are now in the public eye. only because of two years of constant admissions and lawsuits and civil prosecutions and media scandals and exposes.

In other words, these figures unfortunately, while theoretically provided voluntarily, are out in the public eye only because of intense pressure on the bishops.

And numbers alone don't represent a cure. It's a diagnosis.

NAPOLITANO: Let me tell you that I think the numbers are out there because of people like you, victims, innocent victims of these horrific crimes, who have had the courage to come forward, to reveal what happened, to point the finger, to sue, to cause lawsuits, to cause the laws even to be changed. And my hat is off to you for that.

CLOHESSEY: Well, I appreciate that.

NAPOLITANO: But what more can the church do right now? It has admitted its sins of past. It has a zero tolerance policy for the future. What would David Clohessey have the Catholic Church do today beyond what it's already done?

CLOHESSEY: Two quick points.

It's important that bishops work with victims to change the archaic statutes of limitations, both civil and criminal, that prevent victims from being able to prosecute these dangerous men.

And secondly, every single bishop needs to go to every single parish where these molesters serve and look at parishioners and say, "It is your duty, if you experienced abuse, witnessed abused, suspected abuse, it's your duty to call the police."

I mean, this is a criminal offense, and these men, unfortunately, need to be locked up in order for kids to be safe. And when bishops take those steps we'll feel very much more encouraged.

NAPOLITANO: OK. David Clohessey, who represents the many thousands of victims of priest pedophiles. We thank you for sharing your story with us today.

CLOHESSEY: Thank you, judge.

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