Bishop Pilla: Diocese Will Ban Sex Offenders - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Bishop Pilla: Diocese Will Ban Sex Offenders

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - The head of Cleveland's Roman Catholic Diocese said any priest guilty of sexual abuse against a child will be permanently banned from the ministry, despite misgivings among other bishops in the state about such "zero-tolerance" policies.

Bishop Anthony Pilla (pictured, right) announced the new policy in a letter to all 235 pastors and parish administrators for publication in church bulletins this weekend. The diocese has more than 800,000 Catholics and about 340 priests in Ashland, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Summit and Wayne counties.

"Our church cannot tolerate any instance of abuse," Pilla wrote. "A priest or deacon who sexually abuses a minor will be permanently banned from ministry; he will be prohibited from ministering in any capacity within the church."

Pilla's letter says that principle will apply to all future cases of sexual abuse. He stopped short of saying any priest who committed an offense in the past will be banned.

The bishop's letter does not explain how sex abuse allegations will be adjudicated. Pilla has appointed a commission to develop new policies and procedures for sex abuse cases.

Not everybody agrees that zero-tolerance policies should be adapted in the wake of charges that accusations against priests have been ignored or covered up by the church.

The head of the Catholic Diocese of Toledo said last week there was a split among clergy members over zero-tolerance policies following meetings he had with 160 priests in northwest Ohio.

"My difficulty with zero tolerance is that the Gospel teaches forgiveness and reconciliation and redemption," said Bishop James Hoffman. "We believe in forgiveness."

Bishop James A. Griffin of the Columbus Diocese told a clergy group in April that while priests in the past may have received treatment and counseling in the wake of a sexual abuse charge, in the future, priests will probably have to be removed from ministry.

"Even a single occurrence of this type of activity now jeopardizes the future ministry of that priest," Griffin said, but he stopped short of saying any priest guilty of sexual abuse would be banned from ministry.

The Youngstown diocese does not have a written zero-tolerance policy, but "we are already using it in practice," said Nancy Yuhasz, chancellor of the diocese.

The Youngstown diocese is drafting revisions to its written policy on sexual abuse, which was last updated in 1999, but is waiting until after the Dallas meeting to finalize it.

Pilla said he will recommend similar national policies during a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June. The meeting in Dallas will generate new guidelines on handling sex abuse allegations. Conference spokesman Michael Hurley said Pilla's principles are in line with what some bishops are considering.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, said in a visit to Cleveland last month that it is possible that a priest guilty of a single, long-past incident of sexual abuse could stay in the priesthood if his work since then proves he has reformed and repented.

Robert Tayek, spokesman for the Cleveland diocese, said Pilla hopes the commission will develop procedures for dealing with cases of past abuse by priests with long records of good service.

David Clohessy, national director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Pilla's statement does not go far enough.

"It would be terribly premature to call this progress," Clohessy said. "These are just words."

Pilla's unwillingness to apply a strict zero tolerance policy for past incidents of abuse is "painfully misguided," he said. "In our society, you don't get one free bank robbery, you don't get one free car theft. If there is ever a crime for which somebody should not get a free pass, it's abuse of a child," Clohessy said.

Pilla's letter said he also will develop new diocesan policies to expand the role of lay people in the church's handling of sex abuse cases and will continue to report instances of abuse to civil authorities.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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