At St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, several members of the Order of St. Benedict live under restrictions imposed by Abbot John Klassen. Some members faced with the possibility of restrictions have taken leaves from the order to consider whether they wish to remain members of the order. Klassen said in 2002 that as many as 15 monks or priests were on restriction at the abbey, including former Abbot John Eidenschink. Klassen last month declined an interview request from the Times to discuss the current state of the abbey and the monks on restriction.
NEW YORK — At the peak of the Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis, the discipline plan American bishops adopted prompted dioceses to remove nearly all accused clergy from the priesthood.
Some of the men, however, were considered too old or sick to be kicked out. Instead, bishops barred those clerics from functioning as priests and promised to keep watch over them in supervisory programs that would keep the men far from children.
But interviews with canon lawyers, church child protection officials and experts who advise them found that, eight years after the plan was approved, few of those diocesan programs exist. Church leaders are more likely to oust a cleric from the priesthood than monitor him.
Church leaders viewed the tracking programs as critical to protecting children while showing mercy for accused clergy who did not have the means to survive on their own.
Most people who said they were abused as children did not come forward until decades after the priests’ alleged offenses. The men had never been prosecuted in a civil court, let alone a church tribunal. Vatican officials whose approval was needed to enact the 2002 American plan were especially concerned about clergy due process rights and pressed bishops on the issue.
When the American policy was finalized, an exception had been carved out for the infirmed men. They would be ordered to live a life of “prayer and penance” under diocesan watch.
Dioceses quickly realized, though, that they had few resources for the complex task of monitoring abusive priests, and that by caring for the clergy, they might be opening themselves to additional liability. American dioceses already have paid more than $2.7 billion in settlements and other abuse-related costs since 1950, according to surveys by the bishops.
Tossing accused clerics out of the priesthood altogether became the more common approach.
“In many instances, it’s a decision based on whether there is the probability of being able to provide the monitoring that’s necessary,” said Sister Sharon Euart, a canon lawyer who advises bishops and religious orders. If they can’t, they may be more likely to begin the process of removing them from the priesthood, she said.
No one knows exactly how many accused clergy have been removed from the priesthood in the past several years, how many are living under church supervision or the specifics of how dioceses are tracking the men under their watch.
Annual child safety audits for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops do not include a check of priest-monitoring programs.
A separate 2007 survey for the bishops found a small number of dioceses operated residences where abusive clergy were supervised, according to Mary Jane Doerr of the bishops’ Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection.
Monica Applewhite, a consultant who conducts abuse-prevention training and helps develop policies and monitoring programs for dioceses and religious orders, estimates a few hundred accused clergy are under supervision around the country.
“Some dioceses really have laicized everybody,” she said.
The situation in dioceses contrasts starkly to the approach in men’s religious orders.
At St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, several members of the Order of St. Benedict live under restrictions imposed by Abbot John Klassen. Some members faced with the possibility of restrictions have taken leaves from the order to consider whether they wish to remain members of the order.
Klassen said in 2002 that as many as 15 monks or priests were on restriction at the abbey, including former Abbot John Eidenschink. Klassen last month declined an interview request from the Times to discuss the current state of the abbey and the monks on restriction.
When the U.S. religious orders adapted the bishops’ 2002 discipline plan, the groups added detailed guidelines on supervision of priests barred from public church work.
The religious orders had a built-in advantage. Their clergy already lived together and had taken vows of obedience to their superiors when they joined the orders.
Diocesan priests are more independent. They generally live alone in parish rectories spread across a state, some with parochial grade schools attached or nearby.
Dioceses also have found they do not have the housing, resources or experience to properly supervise accused abusers. Church-run treatment facilities take in some of the clergy, with dioceses covering the costs.
Dioceses oust abusers they pledged to monitor
Times Staff and News Services
July 6, 2010