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Prelate criticizes media reports
on restructured sex abuse panel

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse said some media reports got it wrong when they suggested that three bishops who left his committee were removed because of criticisms of their own record on handling sexual abuse cases and issues.

Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis made his comments in a letter to the Chicago Tribune after it published a story headlined "3 bishops dumped off panel on sex abuse. All faced criticism for their handling of priest cases."

The lengthy article Sept. 18 included comments from church officials saying the moves were simply part of a planned restructuring, but the bulk of the report was devoted to criticisms of the past record of each of the bishops who were leaving and speculation by church observers and a victims' group spokesman that the three were removed because of those issues.

A shorter Associated Press story based mainly on the Tribune report was carried later on U.S. newspaper Web sites.

The restructuring was announced Sept. 6. The three former members not on the new committee list were Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J., Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., and Auxiliary Bishop A. James Quinn of Cleveland.

"It is a shame that the media ignore the significance of bringing additional bishops from every region into this committee's continuing and important work," Archbishop Flynn said Sept. 18. "Instead, the public is given reports about its restructuring which are wrong and harmful to the good name of individual bishops."

At their national meeting in Dallas in June, the bishops mandated a restructuring of the committee to make it larger, with a new membership comprised of a representative from each of the 14 geographical regions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Before the restructuring there were two bishops from Region 1, the New England states. Bishop McCormack, a member of the committee since 1996 and a former committee chairman, left the panel while Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., remained as a member.

Before his New Hampshire appointment, Bishop McCormack was Boston archdiocesan secretary for ministerial personnel and Cardinal Bernard F. Law's delegate for sexual misconduct. Because of his role there in clergy assignments, he is among the defendants in a number of sexual abuse lawsuits against priests in the Boston Archdiocese. He also faces lawsuits in New Hampshire. Critics argued that he was dropped from the Flynn committee because of that record.

Bishop Lori had been appointed to the committee in March when it was slightly expanded and restructured to address the immediate need of developing a response to the sex abuse crisis in time for the bishops' June meeting. At the time of that restructuring, Bishop McCormack stepped down as committee chairman, citing the press of diocesan business.

Archbishop Flynn said that in the post-Dallas restructuring, Bishop McCormack thought that with his "having served so long, Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, a recent appointee, ought to serve as representative of the region."

Another person critics claimed was removed because of his past record was Bishop Quinn. Archbishop Flynn said Bishop Quinn was on the committee as chairman of the bishops' Committee on Canonical Affairs. Even if the committee were not being restructured to make its membership regional, Bishop Quinn would have been leaving this November when his term as canonical affairs chairman ends.

Bishop Quinn "indicated that he was glad to be relieved of the committee obligations which take a good deal of time away from a bishop's primary obligation to his diocese," Archbishop Flynn said. The new committee member from Region 6, Michigan and Ohio, is Bishop James A. Murray of Kalamazoo, Mich.

When The Associated Press reported on the Sept. 6 announcement, it said Bishops Quinn and McCormack had been dropped in the restructuring but did not mention Archbishop Myers. Following the Sept. 18 report in the Chicago Tribune, the AP follow-up referred to the archbishop as "the latest member to leave" following the "previously announced" departures of the other two.

Archbishop Flynn said that Archbishop Myers, a canon lawyer, "played a crucial role in the drafting of the 'Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People' and a second document titled 'Essential Norms.'" The two complementary documents were adopted by the bishops in June as their national policy to fight and prevent child sexual abuse by clergy.

"I am sure that Archbishop Myers would have been glad to continue serving; but he was also kind enough to indicate that he would be willing to allow an Eastern Catholic archbishop from his region to serve in his stead," Archbishop Flynn said.

The charter and the norms, yet to be approved by the Vatican, apply to Eastern Catholic as well as Latin Catholic jurisdictions across the country. Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Archdiocese of Philadelphia was named to the committee to represent Region 3 -- Pennsylvania and New Jersey -- and is the only Eastern-rite bishop on the committee.

The Tribune story quoted David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors' Network for those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, saying that because of Archbishop Myers' record when he was bishop of Peoria, Ill., "I think it would be embarrassing were he to be reappointed."

Archbishop Myers' spokesman in Newark, James Goodness, protested efforts to "cast doubt on the archbishop's efforts to deal with sexual misconduct matters while serving as bishop of Peoria."

"The Peoria Diocese has stated categorically, on numerous occasions, that the information brought to the attention of Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria this year was not known when Archbishop Myers was in Peoria and that he would have acted on it had he known," Goodness said.