-- Posted June 14, 2002, 4:07 p.m. Central Time
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Bishop Banks comments on U.S. bishops' meeting
Local recommendations fit in with national plan
By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor
The proposal to deal with the sexual abuse of minors by priests discussed at the meeting of the U.S. Catholic Bishops is in accordance and supports the recommendations of the Record Review Task Force of the Green Bay Diocese, said Bp. Robert Banks, by phone from Dallas, Friday, June 14.
"There won't be too much change in what we are doing because the policies we have in place are very similar," said Bp. Banks. "The recommendations by the Task Force certainly fit in with what is being talked about here, so I don't see major changes. What will be helpful when I come back is I can say to our priests, because there is some very strong language in there, that will have it's effect is, 'This isn't Bp. Banks talking, this is the church of the United States.'"
The bishops have discussed a policy stating full cooperation with civil authorities on all matters of sexual abuse and removal of anyone from ministry who has been involved in the abuse of a minor. A vote on a proposal was expected as early as Friday afternoon.
"Any amendment that has been made that seems to give wiggle room is immediately voted down," said Bp. Banks. "I am a little concerned they are saying that this is a charter or framework, yet we are really treating it as a law. I think that can be a little confusing, but the general thrust is in the right direction."
Bp. Banks added that some bishops have voiced concerns that priests who abused a minor 30 or 40 years ago and have served well since then are not being treated fairly.
"There is some expression of that among the bishops, but it's in such a minority that I don't think it's really going to have any effect," he said.
In response to the use of the term "zero-tolerance" when discussing the proposal, Bp. Banks expressed reservations.
"First of all, I don't know what zero-tolerance means," he said. "Everyone defines it in a different way so I don't think it makes any sense to vote on zero-tolerance. You have to vote on what you are going to do with the problem. It seems to me that they are being very strong about any priest who's abused a minor will not be in ministry period."
Bp. Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, opened the meeting on Thursday, June 13, by apologizing to victims of sexual abuse by priests. Listening sessions, including testimonies by victims, followed his address. The opening format was effective, said Bp. Banks.
"I think it contributed to strengthening the resolve of bishops to do something about this problem," he said. "Everyone spoke very passionately. The victims were very emotional. The academics spoke with passion. It was a very moving session and it did affect what happened for the rest of the meeting."
Proposed amendments needed to be discussed before calling for a vote. Discussions of essential norms will then follow the vote.
"That could be another drawn out process," said Bp. Banks. "I think we are trying to do too much in too short of time. To have 300 men trying to craft penal law in two days, no government would try that. But this is an emergency situation so we are trying to do the best we can."
What does he hope will be accomplished by the close of the meeting?
"I would like to see a unified and united approach to this problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests on the part of the hierarchy in the church," said Bp. Banks. "I would like to see that we implement it in such a way and welcome it in such a way that there is a general feeling certainly among our people, but also among our priests that we are handling this matter seriously, strictly, but at the same time we are trying to do it appropriate fairness and justice."