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YOUNGSTOWN Diocese sets up panel on sexual abuse



Published: Wed, July 31, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Church officials wanted advisers from all walks of life.

By D.A. WILKINSON

VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has appointed a police detective, parents and psychologists to a board to help the six-county diocese deal with the sexual abuse of children.

The 13-member Diocesan Review Board on the Sexual Abuse of Minors includes 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; and Teresa Peach, a psychologist specializing in child-abuse victims who also is a parent.

The panel announced Tuesday also is ecumenical and interfaith. It includes the Rev. Mark Williams, associate pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Youngstown, which is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; and Atty. Alan Kretzer, who is Jewish.

Casey said having such a range of experience and education on the board gives it credibility.

Diocesan officials said their goal wasn't credibility, but depth.

All board members are from the Diocese of Youngstown. The others are Mary Butler, a parent active in her parish; Sister Nancy Dawson, the 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.

Nancy Yuhasz, the diocesan chancellor, said more people may be added if diocesan officials think of someone who would enhance the board.

Bishops' charter

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a charter in Dallas earlier this year that calls for creation of the panels to crack down on sexual abuse of children. The Youngstown diocese has about 262,000 Catholics and about 34,000 pupils in its schools.

The bishops stipulated that the majority of the board members could not be employed by the diocese. Yuhasz said the charter did not otherwise spell out the board's composition.

"Our thought was to get people on the board with different areas of expertise who could really be of service," Yuhasz added.

Monsignor John Zuraw, executive director of clergy and religious services, said the diocese tried to get people "who best represented all walks of life and all types of life."

Yuhasz and Monsignor Zuraw will serve as staff members to the board. Under the diocese's child-protection policy, all sexual-abuse allegations must be reported to Yuhasz.

The charter has not been approved by the Vatican, which would make the boards part of church law. But Yuhasz said many dioceses are creating the panels.

Board's duties

The board will review the diocese's child-protection policy to make sure it agrees with the charter and church law, and assist with what the diocese called "full and fair" implementation of the charter.

The board also will offer recommendations to Bishop Tobin regarding the status of priests who are accused of sexual abuse.

The charter -- and the diocese's child-protection plan -- state that if there is evidence of abuse after a preliminary investigation, an accused priest is to be removed from public ministry. The charter and protection plan also state that allegations are to be reported to authorities.

The charter further states that a priest will be permanently removed from ministry for even one case of abuse. But under its terms, older or infirm priests might not be dismissed but will not be permitted to celebrate Mass publicly, wear clerical garb or present themselves publicly as priests.

The diocese has had 17 allegations of abuse, Bishop Tobin said.

Monsignor Zuraw said those cases will be presented to the board. Its first meeting is Aug. 27.

The diocese said that under the charter, the board can suggest other ways the diocese can respond to the scandal of sexual abuse; to suggest how the church as a whole can be healed; and to suggest ways in which the diocese can relate to the larger community.

That, said Yuhasz, can mean almost anything or any activity.

Open to ideas

Monsignor Zuraw said the diocese wasn't suggesting activities but rather wanted to hear the ideas of the board members.

For instance, the board members may see ways to improve the child-protection policy, he said.

"It's like inviting someone into your house," Casey added. "[He] can see many situations or issues we don't see. We don't see it because we're so close to it."

The detective said she and the other members with law-enforcement backgrounds could advise the diocese on its technique in investigating abuse allegations.

The detective, who also is a parent, said adults often say their problems began in childhood. Children should be educated about abuse because they are able to give more information to investigators than people think, she added.

wilkinson@vindy.com




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