February 08, 2005

Speaker: Catholic laity must question hierachy

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— Judge Anne Burke, who served 30 months on theAbuse Tracker Review Board created by the American Catholic bishops to monitor adherence to Charter for the Protection of Children and who initiated studies into the root causes of clergy sexual abuse, last night called on lay Catholics to become more involved in the church.

“We cannot allow this to happen again,” she told an audience of more than 60 people last night at the College of the Holy Cross. The review board was able to ascertain 11,000 documented instances of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, she said. She called the ensuing scandal in the church a “horror.”

Judge Burke, who serves in the U.S. Court of Appeals 1st District in Chicago, said her work on the review board — she most recently was interim chairwoman — changed her. Catholics throughout American history have risen to the challenges of their times. Catholics of the 21st century must deal with what she called “darker issues.”

The lay members of the review board found the sexual abuse crisis emerged from a hierarchy that was arrogant, lacked good leadership and had no real understanding of sexuality, she said. “The clear certainty is the church needs to be reborn and it needs the service of the laity,” she said.

Judge Burke said her own experiences in grappling with the issue of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church convinced her she needed to go around the country and talk to lay Catholics about the imperative need for them to become involved in their church in a meaningful way.

While many of the bishops and cardinals saw the work of the review board as a positive way of bringing healing to the church, of dealing with the serious abuse problem and of helping to restore trust, others sought to undermine the board’s work, she said. She talked of “Byzantine” plots by some in the hierarchy, of some personal attacks on review board members and hierarchal politics that at times “was medieval.” Judge Burke, who has been politically involved in Chicago, said she thought she knew about politics but she was unprepared for what she encountered in some in the American hierarchy. She did not name names.

Judge Burke added that the review board had good cooperation with cardinals and others in the hierarchy at the highest reaches of the Vatican. “They listened to what we had to say and they were open,” she said. The problems came from a small group of the American hierarchy, she said.

Daniel Dick, victim service coordinator for Voice of the Faithful in the Worcester diocese, questioned Judge Burke on what he saw as language missing from the charter. Accused priests have been placed on leave by their dioceses but lay people do not know where they are. He called these priests “a threat” to minors. Judge Burke said unless they are laicized — a Catholic term for defrocked — the bishops know where they are. Lay people do not know where they are, he said.

Judge Burke said the charter may not be a perfect document but it contains some positive things. The document is both a “Magna Carta” that for the first time created a national policy for handling sexual abuse cases and it is also a “Rosetta stone” because it created language so that Catholics could talk to each other about the issue.

Posted by kshaw at February 8, 2005 06:54 AM