GWEN IFILL: Now a view from the pews as Catholics respond to the Church's new policy to remove abusing priests from the ministry: That plan adopted by the Conference of Catholic Bishops. At our Lady of Lourdes Church in Oakland, seven Catholics from northern California, discussed the policy with our correspondent Spencer Michels.
SPENCER MICHELS: Thank you all very much for being with us today. All of you, in fact, heard about what happened in Dallas this last weekend. Lael Carlson, should the bishops have spent so much time on this particular issue-- how do you punish a priest who has engaged in this behavior?
LAEL CARLSON, Church Music Director: It's such a heinous abuse of power, and as a parent, I just... you know, they had to be strict; they had to come down hard. And, you know, there are people that say it wasn't hard enough, but I think they went as far as they could go at this time.
SPENCER MICHELS: Marie DePorres Taylor, you were a nun for 30 years, now you work in local government. Do you think this policy of removing from ministerial duties any priest who has ever abused a minor, was that... is that a good idea?
MARIE DE PORRES TAYLOR, Former Nun/Administrator: Yes, that's a good idea. I think that it also should be that they are prosecuted, that the individual is prosecuted. So I have a...
SPENCER MICHELS: Do you think, though, that a priest who abused someone 30, 40 years ago and hasn't done it since ought to have this sanction on him, that he should be isolated like that?
MARIE DE PORRES TAYLOR: Yes, I do. Yes, I do, because it's very hard to really cure pedophiles.
SPENCER MICHELS: George Fruehan, you... last time when you were... we had this discussion, you disclosed that you had been abused as a child by a priest.
GEORGE FRUEHAN, Business Consultant: Yes.
SPENCER MICHELS: What do you think now when you hear the new policy? Would that have helped?
GEORGE FRUEHAN: Well, I think certainly the Church had to draw a very severe line this time, and it's partly because... mostly because of the action of the bishops in the past of moving pedophiles around, and basically administrative malfeasance on the part of the bishops. So, although we may think of that as a pretty strict line to draw, that, you know, one... one molestation in the past, we have to realize, I mean, that was a criminal act.
SPENCER MICHELS: Maria Lopez Knowles, you've heard probably that many of the victims' groups and some of the reform elements in the Church have said it wasn't even strict enough, that it really ought to be tougher.
MARIE LOPEZ-KNOWLES, Marketing Director: I think it was strict enough. I think isolating them is important. I agree with Marie they need to be supervised. If they're guilty, one act is enough, as far as I'm concerned. They don't have to do it five times over 20 years. And they should... they should be criminally prosecuted as well. I think in the case of the bishops in Dallas, it's very easy to look at the priests and say, "the problem resides there, so we'll do zero tolerance at that level." But they need to look in the mirror. I think the bishops need to look at themselves and take care of their own situation quickly.
GEOFF COLLINS, Insurance Investigator: Let's face it, none of this crisis, none of this agony that the victims went through and now loyal Catholics are going through, would have to have happened had the bishops, and certain bishops certainly in particular dioceses, had done their job. We need to see the resignations of men like Cardinal Law, Cardinal Mahony, and potentially Cardinal Egan and other bishops like that who have allowed this thing, I think, to become the scandal that it is.
SPENCER MICHELS: The "Dallas Morning News" reported that two out of every three priests-- bishops, rather-- has dealt with this issue in that way; by transferring priests, by hiding it, by not bringing it forward. That would be a wholesale change in the Church if you had to deal with two-thirds of the bishops and get rid of them. Would that... does that make sense, Geoff?
GEOFF COLLINS: No, not really, because there are many bishops who were naive initially, who believed in good faith that some of these priests could be rehabilitated. But the ones that I spoke about earlier, certainly the princes of the church, so to speak, there's ample evidence to justify not only misfeasance, but frankly, I think, criminal obstruction of justice charges. This is really a crisis of authority and the abuse of authority. We are the Church; not the bishops, not even the Pope. They serve us, not the other way around. And they've given us tremendous disservice to this point.
SPENCER MICHELS: Doesn't that imply, what you're talking about, both of you, a wholesale reorganization of the personnel in the upper reaches of the Church?
GROUP MEMBER: Why not?
SPENCER MICHELS: Anthony?
ANTHONYGONZALES, President, Catholic Men's Group: I come from Silicon Valley. I know of innumerable CEO's that were kicked out because they weren't doing their job right.
LAEL CARLSON: But doesn't that decision have to come from the Vatican? I mean, the bishops cannot remove each other. I mean, it has to come down from the Vatican.
SPOKESPERSON: No, it's...
MARIE LOPEZ-KNOWLES: And it's very difficult to defrock a priest. That comes from the Vatican, too.
LAEL CARLSON: But there has...
MARIE LOPEZ-KNOWLES: That's a very difficult situation in and of itself.
ANTHONY GONZALES: This is very interesting. A priest is automatically defrocked when he's excommunicated, okay?
SPENCER MICHELS: Nobody's talking excommunication here, though.
ANTHONY GONZALES: But... but here's the point, they could have made... the bishops in the United States could have made this an excommunicatable offense.
SPENCER MICHELS: Did anybody even propose that?
ANTHONY GONZALES: No.
SPENCER MICHELS: I didn't hear that at all.
ANTHONY GONZALES: It was not proposed and it should have been.
GEORGE FRUEHAN: That's within their authority as...
ANTHONY GONZALES: Yes. Absolutely. Each bishop in his diocese has that authority. The bishops are supposed to be our exemplars. And where are their... are our exemplars when these kind of things happen?
SPENCER MICHELS: But it also says in the bible that you forgive, that forgiveness is the whole basis for the Christian faith.
GEOF COLLINS: No, question about that.
MARIE LOPEZ-KNOWLES: That's a double-edged sword.
SPENCER MICHELS: But that's a double-edged sword.
LAEL CARLSON: But what does forgiveness mean?
SPOKESPERSON: It implies...
LAEL CARLSON: You can still forgive, but are they in that position anymore? Do you know what I mean? There can still be forgiveness.
ADRIAN MISON FULAY, High School Teacher: The first step is... the first step is the penitence of the individual person to seek that forgiveness. And one of the speakers at the bishops' conference meeting, Scott Appleby from the University of Notre Dame, stated, you know, "the problem lies in this arrogance of power." And I think that's the most pressing problem in the Church today, the arrogance of power.
GEOFF COLLINS: No question about it. The problem is you're dealing with power, and when they see a threat to power, that's when they close ranks. And that's why all Catholics, I think, of whatever persuasion, as laity, are really questioning now that power.
MARIE DE PORRES TAYLOR: When a man is ordained a bishop, he becomes the sole shepherd, shall we say, of a diocese or archdiocese. He is the king of his kingdom.
SPENCER MICHELS: Would you change that?
MARIE DE PORRES TAYLOR: Well, yes, because you're talking about power. But to do that, you will have to change the upside down of hierarchy. And I'm not sure that Rome is ready to be turned upside down.
ANTHONY GONZALES: These men were given Christ's authority. Now they've abused that authority, and therefore Rome should be the one that comes down on them if they don't have the honor and the integrity and the guts to do what's right.
SPENCER MICHELS: Which gets us to a very crucial point in this, which is what is the role of the laity here, and what is the role of the hierarchy? Are you saying that the laity ought to know its place and not get this involved?
ANTHONY GONZALES: No, no. It is our... it is our duty as the laity to bring these issues up to the bishops and to say, "well, excuse me, Your Excellency, you don't have that right. You don't have that right. You cannot do what you are doing."
GEOF COLLINS: The only problem is you're going to come up flat against power politics, and believe me, these guys know how to play it better than anybody, especially the Romans. However, I do believe that we have to approach this with a little moderation. We have to look at it where we can contribute, because this... we have a lot of victims here. We can't forget them.
SPENCER MICHELS: New subject-- kind of related: Should the bishops have talked about the specific cases of homosexuality in the priesthood, celibacy for priests, married priests, women in the priesthood? Should they...
SPENCER MICHELS: No? Why not? (Group speaking at once )
GEORGE FRUEHAN: First of all, there's a limited amount of time. Second of all, each of those topics in its own right, it is highly political hot buttons for many different people. And so if you want to get a problem solved, you have to have some focus. And certainly those questions of celibacy and marriage for priests... you know, the influence of lay people in a parish and in a diocese, those have to be brought up in the future. But if you're going to get something done now, you have to concentrate on the topic at hand.
SPENCER MICHELS: But don't those underlie the topic at hand? Aren't they really important for the scandal?
MARIE LOPEZ-KNOWLES: I don't think they have to do with the scandal. And I think those are issues that have to be dealt with in Rome.
ANTHONY GONZALES: It has been the case that in every crisis of the church it's the laity that ultimately holds fast to the faith, unlike my brethren here, and keeps... ( laughter )
GEOF COLLINS: A humble opinion. In his Christian opinion.
ANTHONY GONZALES: ...And keep the church on the straight and narrow. Let me just... one thing. Spencer, please.
ADRIAN MISON FULAY: But that's what keeps me in the church because we can have these dialogues, we can have these arguments, we can fight with each other, but I'm not being driven out of this church because of sin, mistakes, arrogance, power. I'm staying in this church because from inside I can affect a lot of change.
ANTHONY GONZALES: Here's the bottom line: Our faith isn't in bishops or priests or nuns or cardinals or even the pope-- that's not where our faith lies. Our faith lies in Jesus Christ and in the revealed truth that he gave us and that has been preserved in the church.
SPENCER MICHELS: Okay. So what do you do now? The Vatican has this on its plate at this point. Do you write the Vatican? Do you go to your bishop and tell him, or do you just give up and say, "okay, we've done what we can do."
MARIE DE PORRES TAYLOR: What I want to see is that true change will happen, is if each bishop and archbishop really takes the recommendation seriously and enacts them in his parish, in his diocese and archdiocese.
SPENCER MICHELS: So Rome is almost irrelevant, then.
MARIE DE PORRES TAYLOR: Yeah, I think so. If they... if we... I mean, I think, it's nice to have Rome's, you know, papal blessing on it, but I still think it has to go down to the local area.
ADRIAN MISON FULAY: And I think in our culture today, with the media, with the information out there, and people are not going to tolerate anything, you know, coming up, coming across as false.
LAEL CARLSON: You know, and change is messy. It's all messy and it's going to be forward and back and back and forward, and it... it is a beginning. It is a beginning. I think there are some positive things happening. I really do.
SPENCER MICHELS: So we will end at that beginning, I'm afraid, because we're out of time. But thank you all very much for being here.
GROUP: Thank you.