(RNS) When the nation’s Catholic bishops gather in Atlanta next week (June 13-15) for their annual spring meeting, a top agenda item will be assessing the reforms they adopted 10 years ago as revelations of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests consumed the church.
The policy package they approved at that 2002 meeting in Dallas was known as theCharter for the Protection of Children and Young People, or the Dallas charter, for short. With it, the bishops vowed to finally put an end to the abuse and secrecy. They also pledged to help raise awareness about the plague of child abuse in society.
But is anything different – in the church or in the country — 10 years later? Here’s a look at what has changed, and what has not:
One, law enforcement is more assertive
The chief criticism of the 2002 reforms was that they did not include any means of disciplining bishops who fail to follow the charter. Each bishop still answers only to the pope – and Benedict XVI has so far declined to penalize any of them.
But that hasn’t stopped law enforcement officials from pursuing churchmen when the church will not — a marked change from the deference that police and district attorneys once showed the hierarchy.
Witness the ongoing trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the longtime head of priest personnel for the Philadelphia archdiocese and the first cleric ever to face trial for covering up for abusers. The headline-making story was in many ways a trial in absentia of former Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who died shortly before the trial started, and Cardinal Justin Rigali, who retired under a cloud last year after a grand jury indicted Lynn and others.
Similarly, in Missouri, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph is facing trial in September on charges that he failed to report credible allegations that one of his priests had a trove of child pornography and a suspicious interest in young children. The priest was arrested and charged, and Finn could become the first bishop ever convicted of a crime in connection with the scandal.
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