Update: Catholic Church in Crisis
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GWEN IFILL: The recommendations drafted by a panel of Bishops are a first look at how Catholic leaders propose to handle the sex abuse crisis that has nearly overwhelmed the Church. They will be debated in Dallas next week when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meets.
Joining us to talk about the proposal is Bishop Joseph Galante of Dallas. A member of the ad hoc committee on sexual abuse, Bishop Galante helped draft the recommendations. Welcome, Bishop.
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: So what would you say are the most important conclusions reached in this report?
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: I think the most important is the focus on creating a safe environment for children and young people that this whole report is very narrowly, if you will, focused on that because our first energy is being devoted to the safety of children and young people.
GWEN IFILL: If safety means removing a priest, defrocking, the laicization – to use the formal term — of a priest, what are the circumstances under which that would happen?
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: Well, in the proposed document, we’ve said that any subsequent act of abuse will be treated with immediate request for laicization.
GWEN IFILL: Subsequent meaning from now on.
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: From the time the document gets accepted. Any past abuses, especially if there was more than one act of abuse or true pedophilia — namely abusing prepubescent children, the person will be out of the priesthood. The sticking point that’s going to be discussed in number six: One act of past abuse and a number of conditions whereby a priest may continue. I personally would like to see no continuation for any, even for past acts.
GWEN IFILL: Past or present. Zero tolerance as it’s called.
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: We don’t use that term in there. But for me, the concern is the victim — even one victim, one act, the trauma to that person.
GWEN IFILL: Give us a window into what that debate was like among — between people like yourself who believe in the term I’ll use “zero tolerance” and people who believe there is lots of room for forgiveness, redemption, whatever.
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: One of the things that has happened leading up to the formulation of this document was regional meetings. We have 13 regions in the United States of Bishops. Each of those regions held meetings and sent in the results of those meetings. And a significant minority of Bishops wanted some kind of special treatment for a priest who had one act of sexual abuse in the past but no subsequent ones. So that’s– and I’m sure that is still going to be debated because this is only a draft.
GWEN IFILL: A significant minority?
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: But yet it still became part of the draft?
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: It’s part of the draft but it doesn’t necessarily mean that that will be accepted or not. I know that some of us feel very strongly. Bishop Gregory, who is the president of the Conference, has gone on record in a number of interviews as saying that even one offenses should result in the priest not being–.
GWEN IFILL: Let me make sure I have this right. The majority of the people on this ad hoc committee actually felt–
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: Well, the ad hoc committee was putting together with the input from the regional Bishops. No, there were some Bishops on the ad hoc committee who also believed that — the possibility of rehabilitation. Now, there are conditions for this: that the priest has to have had treatment, has to have been diagnosed as not a danger to young people, has to be in an after care program, has to have supervision, and that a lay board, not of employees of the diocese, including the victim, have to pass on whether or not he can go back.
GWEN IFILL: Was there any debate among yourselves about how to even define what sexual abuse is?
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: There was– yeah, there was some discussion about it and basically what we talked about was the commonly accepted inappropriate touching or worse of minors: Genital contact or the kind of strongly seductive behavior accompanied with some inappropriate touches, et cetera.
GWEN IFILL: So if you are a parent of a child who has been the victim of inappropriate touching, how can the Catholic Church explain to the parent what that redemption is something that is even applicable in this instance?
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: My own personal opinion is, and I’ve said this a number of times — I’ve said it in our discussions both at a regional level and in the committee meeting — we talk about forgiveness in the church, which is very true. But we also talk reparation. And the sinner has to make reparation for sin. And my concern is always about the trauma that victims and their families have suffered.
GWEN IFILL: What constitutes reparation?
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: To my mind, the reparation is that that priest should not be functioning publicly again as a priest.
GWEN IFILL: But this is where the debate begins.
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: This is where the debate begins.
GWEN IFILL: Was there discussion also in these meetings leading up to this document about accountability on another level, the accountability of Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals?
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: Yes, this document the establishment, first, of a national office under the aegis of the Conference of Bishops to, first of all, oversee that every diocese is complying with this document, and also over and above that, to offer help to them.
Beyond that particular office, there’s also a call for a committee, if you will, of people, mainly parents and others, who also will oversee, if you will, the work of that office. Every year there will have to be a report made to that office from each diocese. So the question of accountability, I think, is extremely important. We’ve gotten into this trouble because we haven’t been accountable.
GWEN IFILL: If in the past, a Church leader, no matter who that may be, has not been– has allowed, for instance, a priest who he knew to be guilty or subject of allegations to be transferred say, from parish to parish. If that person is allowed, is there any retroactive punishment for that Church leader?
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: There is nothing in the document that speaks of that. I expect that that’s going to be another point that we will talk about in our discussions. This whole story, which began in January, began with the focus on priests and the abuse, and shifted to the Bishops. And the Bishops, ourselves, are now the people that are the focus of this story, rightfully so — because we have a responsibility. And we say it in the preamble to this document, we express our sorrow and the acknowledgment that some Bishops — not every Bishop — but some Bishops did not handle these cases appropriately in terms of the safety of children. And I think that a lot of examination of conscience has to be done in this.
GWEN IFILL: When you meet in Dallas, will laypeople have a role in this debate?
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: We expect to be addressed by a panel of victims the first day of the meeting. We also are going to be addressed by three lay persons, one of whom is a psychologist and another one is — well, two laypeople. I think Dr. Scott Appleby from Notre Dame and Margaret Steinfelds, the editor of Commonweal.
GWEN IFILL: We’ve had them on the program. Finally, if some action is taken on the document in Dallas, does Rome weigh in, does the Vatican way in?
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: In order for this to be binding on every diocese, on every Bishop, Rome has to give that recognition, because the Conference is not able by Church law to legislate for the dioceses and the Bishops. So one of the things that I think was done when the Cardinals and the officers went over to Rome in April was to lay a groundwork for this and say we need this. We need your recognition so that we can have a policy that will not be voluntary, but that will be binding on everyone.
GWEN IFILL: Bishop Galante, thank you very much for joining us.
MOST REV. JOSEPH GALANTE: Thank you, Gwen, thank you for having me.