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YOUNGSTOWN Catholic sex-abuse policy panel holds first meeting to organize



Published: Tue, August 27, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Changes to the local policy will hinge on Vatican action.

By D.A. WILKINSON

VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown's new Review Board on the Sexual Abuse of Minors will meet tonight for the first time.

The panel will review the diocesan policy on handling abuse complaints and will advise the diocese on any allegations against priests.

Because of the sensitive nature of such complaints, the meetings are closed to the public and press.

Nancy Yuhasz, chancellor for the diocese, said the first meeting will be mostly for organizational matters.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted in June to create such boards under the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" in response to the crisis in the national church.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in turn appointed 13 people last month to the review board. Yuhasz and Monsignor John Zuraw, the executive director of clergy and religious services, will act as the board's staff.

No current cases

The diocese has no current sexual-abuse cases. There have been 17 cases in the past, and the priests involved are either dead, retired, have left the priesthood or have been removed from active ministry, Monsignor Zuraw said.

Yuhasz said the review board will examine the diocese's policy for dealing with sexual-abuse cases. Any changes will be announced, she said.

The diocese's Child Protection Policy dealing with sexual abuse was last revised in 1999. That policy is similar to the national charter.

For example, both the charter and the policy require that allegations of abuse of minors be reported to authorities, and both require that help be offered to victims.

The Youngstown diocese's policy states that when an allegation is substantiated, the accused will be placed on a leave of absence. The statement adds that the bishop may take further action regarding that person's employment.

The charter states that the diocesan policy "will provide 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."

Priests can ask to be released from the ministry, or may be defrocked, according to the charter. The charter also says that abusive priests who are older or in poor health can stay in the priesthood but will not be permitted to celebrate Mass publicly, to wear clerical clothes, or to present themselves as priests.

How much, if any, of the diocesan policy will have to be changed to meet the spirit or letter of the charter remains to be seen.

Vatican approval of the charter or any revisions would make it official.

Monsignor Zuraw said any changes in the policy will be determined when the Vatican looks at and clarifies the charter.

Although Vatican approval could take years, the charter also calls for the creation of a national Office for Child and Youth Protection. The national office will release an annual report on what dioceses it thinks are not in compliance.

Board membership

Monsignor Zuraw said the creation of the review board has added experts to the process. The policy was created with input from the diocesan priests' and pastoral councils.

The new board members include psychologists who are experienced in helping sexual-abuse victims, a police officer trained in crisis intervention, and parents. Not all members are Catholic.

wilkinson@vindy.com




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