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Anti-abuse activists pan U.S. Catholic bishops’ new proposals

FILE – In this April 14, 2005 file photo, Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is in the St. Nereus and Achilleus Church in Rome. In July 2018, Pope Francis removed the AMERICAN leader of the church as a cardinal, after the church, investigators said an allegation that he sexually abused a young altar boy in the 1970s was credible. Then, some ex-seminarians and priests reported that they had abused or harassed by McCarrick as adults. (AP Photo/ Alessandra Tarantino)

NEW YORK – Lawyers and attorneys for victims of clergy sex abuse are assailing it as inadequate number of new measures announced by the U.S. Catholic bishops to curtail the abuse scandals that have shaken the church this year.

The initiatives, announced Wednesday, include the development of a code of conduct for the bishops regarding sexual abuse and sexual harassment and the creation of a confidential hotline run by a third party — to receive complaints of sexual misconduct by bishops, and the relay such complaints to the proper church and civil authorities.

Critics called upon the bishops to go further by allowing outside researchers complete access to the church sex-abuse records, and supporting changes to the statute-of-limitation rules for that there are more cases of long ago sexual abuse can be dealt with in the court.

“Until they let the professional investigators in the secret archives, there will be no real transparency,” said Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who has handled many sex-abuse lawsuits. “They are not able to handle this internally.”

Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor who has studied sexual abuse statute of limitations, that the bishop’s statement as “little more than words … while they lobby against the justice for the victims.”

To the bishops, the support of big statute of limitations reform, ” she said Thursday, “they are enemies of the victims and the public want to know what the actual risks of their policy.”

Sex-abuse scandals have beset the Catholic church all over the world for decades, but the events of this year elevated the problem to crisis level in the Vatican.

In July, Pope Francis removed AMERICAN church leader Theodore McCarrick as a cardinal, after the church, investigators said an allegation that he sexually abused a young altar boy in the 1970s was credible. Then, some ex-seminarians and priests reported that they had abused or harassed by McCarrick as adults.

In August, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailed decades of abuse and cover-up in six dioceses — claims that there are more than 1,000 children had been abused over the years by about 300 priests.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro expressed regret that the bishops do not endorse the grand jury’s recommendations for reform, including eliminating the statute of limitations for child abuse.

“That is the real test to determine whether the Church has changed, and so far no bishop has answered the call,” Shapiro said. “The time for words is over.”

The bishops did endorse “a full investigation” in the McCarrick case, “including his alleged attacks on minors, priests, and seminarians, as well as any comments on these allegations.”

“Such research must rely on lay experts in relevant areas, such as the enforcement of the law and social services,” said the statement, issued by the administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It made no mention of the bishops’ earlier request for the Vatican’s role in the investigation of the McCarrick.

More in general, the bishops expressed regret for the abuse scandals, and promised aid for the victims.

“Some of the bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole,” the statement said. “We ask forgiveness of both the Lord and those who have been harmed.”

The bishops described their proposed steps as “only a beginning.”

“Consultation with a wide range of concerned parents, professionals and other lay people along with clergy and religious, provides additional, specific measures are taken to repair scandal and restore justice,” they said.

Conservative Catholic activist Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute called the bishops ‘ proposals “a good first step”, but blamed them not for the strengthening of their apology with “public acts of reparation.”

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who has represented many hundreds of clergy sexual abuse victims since the 1990s, described Wednesday’s statement as “insincere.”

“If they really interested in prevention and helping victims heal, they would release all documents in their possession about clergy sexual abuse,” he said. “They would announce they would not oppose changes to the articles of association of the restriction.”

The bishops’ reference to the working with layout experts encouraged John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a Washington-based clergy network

“Some of these proposals would have been approved years ago and may prevent abuses, but it is good to see the conference move from the expressions of shame,” Gehring said. “The bishops are not the police itself. There seems to be a growing recognition that this is good to do, we have the agents of accountability from outside the institution.”

The Catholic Archdiocese of New York the proof that that approach on Thursday to announce that it has hired a former federal judge, Barbara Jones, the procedures and protocols for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse. Cardinal Timothy Dolan said he ordered the review because the Catholics in New York have demanded “accountability”, “transparency” and “actions” of the leadership of the church.

David Clohessy, former director of SNAP, a network of clergy-abuse survivors — was skeptical of both the bishops’ statement and Dolan’s announcement.

“To secular authorities start charging, sentencing and jailing of bishops who allow abuse, little or nothing will change, especially as Catholic officials continue to claim that they can deal with these crimes and cover-ups internally,” he said.

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