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Philadelphia review-board chair rips Church policies on abuse inquiries

Catholic World News - May 13, 2011

The chairman of the review board that handled sex-abuse complaints for the Philadelphia archdiocese has issued a harsh critique of the procedures that led to a scathing grand-jury report earlier this year.

Ana Maria Catanzaro explains that the review board members were caught off guard by the grand-jury report, because their board had not received the same information that the grand jury obtained. Catanzaro writes in Commonweal that “the board was under the impression that we were reviewing every abuse allegation received by the archdiocese. Instead, we had been advised only about allegations previously determined by archdiocesan officials to have involved the sexual abuse of a minor—a determination we had been under the impression was ours to make.”

In her article, Catanzaro explains that Church officials operated on one definition of what would constitute sexual abuse, while prosecutors used another:

If the grand jury had interviewed us we would have explained our decision-making process. But what seems clear is that the grand jury’s standard for determining the credibility of allegations was different from the review board’s. Apparently relying on the Pennsylvania Crimes Code and the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law, the grand jury considered a wide range of behaviors reportable offenses. The review board’s standard, in accord with the charge given to us in 2003 and at the insistence of archdiocesan canon lawyers, was the charter’s and norms’ problematic definition of sexual abuse.

Catanzaro questions the efficacy of the “Dallas Charter” standards governing Church responses to reports of abuse, citing a number of potential conflicts. The fundamental problem, she argues, is “clericalism”—the apparent assumption among clerics that they are not accountable to the laity or to civil society. That problem endures, she writes in her lengthy and thoughtful critique.

“Cardinal Rigali and his auxiliary bishops also failed miserably at being open and transparent,” Catanzaro says in reference to the situation in Philadelphia.

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