The 13-member Diocesan Review Board on the Sexual Abuse of Minors appointed by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin is noteworthy not only because of the caliber of the individuals who have agreed to serve, but because it is an interfaith panel. Additionally, the presence of a police officer and two lawyers suggests that the criminal aspect of sexual abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown will not be downplayed. Individuals sworn to uphold the law cannot turn a blind eye to violations of the law, even if the violations occur within the confines of religious institutions.
Bishop Tobin is to be commended for appointing such a strong board and for giving it free rein to delve into every aspect of this terrible assault on the innocent. It isn't just the Youngstown diocese that is being forced to deal openly and aggressively with allegations of child abuse and pedophilia. Two months ago, bishops of the American Catholic Church adopted a binding document titled, "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" in reaction to the public outcry from Catholics and non Catholics to the perceived cover-up by the church's hierarchy of numerous incidents of abuse involving the clergy.
Removal from ministry
The charter's most important provision says that "for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor -- past, present, or future -- the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry and will not receive a future assignment." Such a priest or deacon would not be permitted to wear the cleric's garb nor work in a parish or be involved with children.
The charter also makes it mandatory that any allegation of abuse be reported immediately to the proper authorities, even where state law does not require such reporting.
"From this day forward, no one known to have sexually abused a child will work in the Catholic Church in the United States," said Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference Bishops at the conclusion of the June meeting.
Through his appointment of the review board, Tobin has shown that he not only endorses the actions of the conference of bishops, but that the charter will become a part of the diocese's child-protection policy.
The 13 members of the panel are: Detective Sgt. Delphine Baldwin-Casey of the Youngstown Police Department's crisis intervention unit; Thomas Wren, a psychologist and assistant prosecutor in the Trumbull County Child Abuse Unit; Teresa Peach, a psychologist specializing in child-abuse victims who is also a parent; the Rev. Mark Williams, associate pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Youngstown, which is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Atty. Alan Kretzer, who is Jewish; Mary Butler, a parent active in her parish; Sister Nancy Dawson, former superior of the Ursuline Sisters; Sister Ann McManamon, a parish pastoral associate and a member of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary; Dr. Ronald Mikolich, a physician; Monsignor Kenneth Miller, a pastor and chairman of the committee that wrote the diocese's first child-abuse policy; Christine Murphy, a parent; Ronald Reolfi, a deacon and parent; and the Rev. Matthew Roehrig, superior of the Society of St. Paul.
Monsignor John Zuraw, executive director of clergy and religious services for the diocese, and Nancy Yuhasz, diocesan chancellor, will serve as staff members to the board.
While we are well aware of the secrecy requirements when dealing with potential lawsuits involving childhood incidents, we would remind the review board that where possible discussions should take place in the open so Catholics in particular would have the opportunity to observe and learn.