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Bishop Wilton Gregory
President of the Bishops’ Conference
Discusses the Upcoming Meeting of Bishops in Dallas

From the Catholic News Service

When the U.S. bishops meet in Dallas to develop a national policy on clergy sexual abuse of minors, "it will include direct participation by some who have been directly harmed by a cleric," Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said May 10 at an open meeting with USCCB staff in Washington.

The Belleville, Ill., bishop said the agenda being planned by the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse will provide for "representatives from those who have been harmed to speak to us, to pray with us."

He added that plans for a national day of reconciliation in the U.S. church will need to involve much more than "say three Hail Marys and go and sin no more. This moment is too profound for that kind of glib response. First the bishops have to ask forgiveness of those who have been harmed."

"We are in an unprecedented moment. It is unprecedented because of its sorrow. ... Not all of us bishops have handled the situation as well as we should have. Despite the extent of the crisis, I have not lost faith in the church. I am not overcome by sorrow. I am perplexed. ... I am ashamed. But I am not overwhelmed with despair."

When he was asked what can be expected from the June meeting, he said, "The absolutely essential dimension of Dallas must be that the bishops must make absolutely clear that children will never be placed in harm's way. That is the sine qua non."

"I want to make sure I don't inflate" expectations of what the bishops can do in Dallas. People who harm children are sick. ... It's a crime and it's sinful. ... We can't stop sin -- but we can make sure we will never intentionally place children in harm's way."

Gregory added, "I don't want to place a burden on Dallas more than it can bear. The media have already made Dallas more important than Pentecost."

He said the five guiding principles the bishops established in 1992 for diocesan policy and practice in response to sexual abuse allegations "remain very sound, and most dioceses have put them into practice."

The difference after a national policy is established in Dallas, he said, will be that "it's no longer an option of the individual bishop to decide what's to be done. We will all have to do it. There will have to be structures of accountability" to assure that each diocese is implementing the policy.

When asked about the impact of the crisis on the church's ability to influence public policy, he acknowledged that it is a significant concern. "The issue at hand is the credibility of the bishops of the United States -- and the credibility of the Catholic Church as a universal community."

While the bishops work to rebuild credibility, "there are forces that would like to see our voice silenced. There are people who would love nothing more than to reduce the Catholic Church to a silent group of compromised people. That's at stake."

He said lay involvement will be a crucial aspect of rebuilding trust and credibility.

"We won't be able to get out of this without the help of the laity -- we may have gotten into it without the laity, but we won't get out without the assistance of the laity."