Anchorage Catholic officials react to bishops guidelines

Posted: Friday, June 21, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- National guidelines adopted at a Roman Catholic bishops conference are flawed but a crucial first step in publicly dealing with pedophile priests, officials with the Archdiocese of Anchorage said Thursday.

Anchorage Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz and former Archbishop Francis T. Hurley said they had reservations about a strict stance overwhelmingly approved at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas last week. The policy, passed by a 239-to-13 secret vote, must still be authorized by the pope to be considered law by the Catholic church in the United States.

Schwietz and Hurley, who attended the conference, said they are concerned about the aspect of the policy that calls for abusers -- including those whose offenses occurred in the past -- to be stripped of all church duties although they would technically remain priests. The problem is including past abusers who have successfully been rehabilitated to offer ''years of excellent service'' to the church, Hurley told members of Commonwealth North, a public policy group based in Anchorage.

''This is the one thing that caused real friction at the conference. There was a strong degree of anger,'' Hurley said.

As it stands, the measure could affect the Anchorage archdiocese, which employs a former pastor accused of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy in Michigan. For the time being, Father Timothy Crowley will keep his administrative job in the curate's office.

Despite their reservations, Schwietz and Hurley support the new policy because it addresses a sex scandal that has rippled through the church this year and calls for more accountability by its leaders, they said.

''It's something we needed to do,'' said Schwietz, who voted in favor of the policy. ''I don't see this as a completed document. It needs refinement. But we had to establish this policy as a start.''

Hurley said he could not vote because he is retired, but he expressed his concerns at the Dallas conference. He said he would have voted yes, however, in a show of unity with the majority.

The decision on whether Crowley will be removed from church work is up to Lansing, Mich., Bishop Carl Mengeling, said Hurley, who approved Crowley's transfer to Anchorage in 1995.

None of the other 28 priests assigned to the Anchorage archdiocese have tarnished backgrounds, Hurley and Schwietz said. But Schwietz, who took over from Hurley in March 2001, said he plans to take a close look at files to ''see if there are any issues'' that need to be addressed.

''We're holding ourselves accountable to the people,'' he said.

That new openness by a church deeply imbedded in a secretive culture was a key topic during Hurley's speech.

''We want to go as public as we can,'' he said. ''We are urging people to let us know about abuse out there that we missed, if people are out there who are hurting.''

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