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Posted June 14, 2003

Reflections a Year After Dallas

Father Silva/NFPC
Origins May 29, 2003, Vol. 33:NO.3

Almost one year after the 2002 U.S. bishops' meeting In Dallas, Texas, where action was taken on the church's sexual abuse crisis, some concerns "still plague us," Father Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests' Councils, said in an address May 6 to the NFPC convention in Kansas City, Mo.

He said three areas of concern are the relationship of bishops and priests; the rights of priest-perpetrators and priests in general; and what he referred to as the "one strike and you're out" policy for priests who sexually abuse a minor.

Silva said the church in the United States "has responded well in its pastoral task" regarding "those who have been abused and hurt by priests," though more needs to be done pastorally in this area. And, he said, in establishing policies to address the crisis, the pressure "placed on bishops by legal systems and by the threat of themselves being accused as complicit in some way with the crime has placed individual bishops in a very difficult and almost impossible situation." However, Silva said, "many priests felt that the bishops simply abandoned them and enacted policies that placed priests in a most vulnerable position. Instead of the bishop being an advocate for the priest in his troubles, in the perception of many priests he became an adversary."

Silva said priests and bishops "must realize that they are not adversaries but brothers in a community of the presbyterate", he urged them to enter into dialogue leading "to a restored confidence and trust."

Silva urged that current policy (Origins, Vol. 32, the edition dated Nov. 28, 2002) allowing for dismissal from the clerical state of priests who have sexually abused a minor be revisited. He said: "I am not suggesting that an offender would be placed back in public ministry. What I am suggesting is that while the church must be able to remove the priest from ministry, it must find some place within its community where these priests can live, do something productive and be held accountable."

Silva said: "We must have as a priority the protection of children . . .But we must think creatively of ways to assist the offending priest to live a converted life while at the same time holding him accountable through appropriate supervision."

Silva said: "Automatic dismissal from the priestly state upon the commission of a crime becomes an issue." Silva devoted part of his address to a review of the history and evolution of the NFPC.

Excerpts from Silva's talk:

"The style of confrontation so appropriate and effective in the protest years of the 60s and 70s shifted. Confrontation techniques as a way to get things done now led to paralysis."

"The startling and horrible outbreak of this scourge of sexual abuse that exploded into the headlines in January of 2002 left the priests of this country horrified and stunned."