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VictimPower team answers CWN readers' concerns

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 08, 2005

Vision Book Cover Prints

Our headline story about VictimPower-- the new web site for abuse victims-- prompted quite a few "Sound Off" comments from CWN readers, with many people expressing concerns about the potential for false accusations. I asked Stephen Galebach, the legal advisor to the VictimPower project, to respond to many of our readers' concerns. Here is his reply:

I have followed with interest the comments on this site since our launch of www.victimpower.org on January 6, which was accurately covered by CWN. As a member of the VictimPower team, I share the concern about false accusations and about the importance of verifying complaints. Several points bear emphasis:

1. VictimPower.org makes it possible for authorities to ask follow-up questions of anonymous complainants. This was never possible before. If someone submits an anonymous complaint by mail or phone, anonymity by its nature means that follow-up is impossible. Internet technology changes all that. In order to submit an anonymous complaint via VictimPower, a user must first set up a private account, which functions like a P.O. Box that only the user can access. Responses and questions from authorities are posted to the private account so the user can access them and respond further. Follow-up questioning is often essential to any serious effort to verify information and weed out false accusations from valid reports.

2. False accusations were possible before Jan 6, and VictimPower does nothing to make them easier. Users of the site are given prominent notice that making a false accusation of a crime is itself a crime.

3. VictimPower does not publicize accusations, it simply transmits them to authorities selected by the user-- local police, district attorney, national office of non-Catholic churches, diocesan contact for Catholic churches.

4. Actual experience will speak volumes here. This is a new technology, and time will tell what type of reports it brings forward. So far, reports have been of a serious nature that deserve to be submitted to authorities and that deserve a response. Determining veracity and credibility is for the authorities, of course.

5. I have limited knowledge of diocesan procedures since the enactment of the zero-tolerance policy, but what I do know indicates that VictimPower can be a big step forward from current practice. Under the current policy, if a church authority receives an anonymous written or telephonic complaint against a priest, the bishop is obligated to suspend the priest if the allegation is "credible." Trying to evaluate credibility of an accusation without opportunity to question the accuser must be a daunting task in many instances. Brushing off anonymous complaints is not the answer either, since many valid accusations do come from persons who would only report if they could stay anonymous. Two-way communication between an authority and an anonymous complainant is a useful improvement, both for verifying accurate reports, and for weeding out false ones.

Finally, this is not an effort to tear down the Church or challenge doctrine. I'm a father of ten, I've homeschooled my kids in the faith, and this project has been an outstanding opportunity to work with my older children (one of them did the computer programming, others did parts of the massive research and database compilation, along with a team of other young people) based on a principle that I fervently believe: Lay people have a calling to defend the Church when it is attacked. I've fought other attacks in my time, in the areas of abortion and religious liberty-- but none so threatening as the attack on the Church by predators from inside.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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