ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Roman Catholic leaders in the Archdiocese of Anchorage will gather Wednesday and Thursday for a workshop on a new code of standards, adopted locally in response to issues of sexual abuse.
The code makes explicit what church leaders in the past presumed to be acceptable conduct.
''It takes away any ambivalence,'' the Rev. Steven Moore, vicar general, said Tuesday at a news conference.
Archbishop Roger Schwietz said the nine-page code is a follow-up to national guidelines approved in June by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Since the conference, the diocese also has strengthened a sexual misconduct advisory committee, re-examining former policies and planned additional training, Schwietz said.
The Anchorage code borrows heavily from ethics documents used in other dioceses and was not a response to specific problems here, Moore said.
The code discusses overtly illegal behavior plus actions that could be interpreted as improper.
For counseling, the code bans church leaders from straying beyond their expertise. The code not only bans sexual intimacies, but says physical contact with people being counseled, including hugging, could be misconstrued and in general should be avoided.
Counselors are to make it clear when counseling sessions are in progress and conduct them in an appropriate setting, avoiding living quarters.
In a section involving minors, church leaders are urged to take a team approach to youth ministry. They are to avoid establishing exclusive relationships and to have physical contact only in appropriate public circumstances. Overnight stays by children in rectories or personal homes is banned except for family members.
Church leaders under the code are to report illegal actions to proper civil and church authorities, and unethical actions to church authorities.
All concerns of sexual abuse must be reported to the archdiocese committee on sexual misconduct. The penalty for not reporting is not spelled out.
''I would think that person would be subject to dismissal,'' Schwietz said.
As for reporting to police, ''Our policy is to do it earlier than later,'' Moore said.
The code applies to about 125 church leaders, including about 15 parish priests in the diocese that stretches from Cordova through Southcentral Alaska to the Aleutians.
The church has had three current or former staff members with Alaska connections stripped of authority this year.
Last month, a youth minister accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl in Wyoming was arrested in Alaska. He had been working as a youth minister in Eagle River and was placed on administrative leave last spring after Alaska officials were notified of the allegations.
In July, a former Haines priest working in Tijuana, Mexico, was stripped of his ministerial duties over sexual improprieties involving a Haines teenage girl in the late 1980s.
Also in July, the authority to minister was revoked from a priest who has been working as an administrative assistant in the Anchorage Archdiocese. The priest had been found guilty in 1993 of grievous sexual misconduct involving an 11-year-old boy in Michigan.
On the Net: http://www.archdioceseofanchorage.org
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