Diocese of Lincoln...

Refuses to Participate In National Survey

by Paul Likoudis

When the U.S. Bishops' National Review Board hosts a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., February 27 to reveal the results of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice study detailing 50 years of clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church, at least one American diocese will not be part of its statistics — the Diocese of Lincoln.

The ordinary of the diocese, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, on the advice of his priests and legal advisers, decided not to answer a lengthy questionnaire sent out by the college.

Press reports that the Diocese of Lincoln is the only diocese in the United States not filling out the survey are not accurate. Bishop Bruskewitz explained in a "clarification" on the issue, printed in the diocesan newspaper February 15, Though left unnamed, there are other Latin rite dioceses and Eastern rite eparchies which also refused to complete the questionnaire, according to the bishop.

Bishop Bruskewitz also listed ten reasons — "not complete or exhaustive, but sufficient for now" — why he chose not to answer the inquiry. He explained:

"1) This study is not directed to developing program, for the protection of young people.... The study seems to be to satisfy curiosity.

"2) Serious sins against the Eighth Commandment are likely to be part of the result of the study: detraction, calumny, slander, contumely, etc.

"3) The study asks to include information even for inconclusive allegations and anonymous allegations.

"4) Many of the accused in the files of many dioceses are dead and will not be able to defend themselves.

"5) No equivalent study has ever been made in the United States so that then is no comparison to any other sector of people in the United States, such as Protestant ministers, public school teachers, doctors, youth ministers, artists, newspaper reporters, etc.

"6) The United States federal government Office of Health and Human Services refused to grant a certificate of confidentiality for the study as requested by the National Review Board.

"7) The reporting of the study does not promise to place into context the overwhelming number of priests who do not and did not ever commit any sexual abuse of minors.

"8) The study is skewed and inaccurate from the start because any self-reporting can include both inflation and deflation of information.

"9) About one-third of all the Catholic clergy in the United States are not included in the study, since religious orders and other communities (for instance, Jesuits, Dominicans, Benedictines, Franciscans, etc.) are not included.

"10) The administration of the USCCB [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops] which signed the contract with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has given the ownership of all the information into the possession of the college."

Thus, concludes Bishop Bruskewitz, "The study, like 'The Chatter,' while having some positive aspects, can be fairly judged as defective and flawed and not useful for the Diocese of Lincoln."

In the same clarification. Bishop Bruskewitz also raised objections to media reports that his diocese was not in compliance with 'The Charter' because he had not instituted, among other things, a "safe environment program, written a "transparency" policy in dealing with allegations of sex abuse, created and published a policy for sex abuse victims to report alleged abuse and a policy for handling complaints of such abuse.

In response to these allegations, Bishop Bruskewitz informed his people that the diocese's policy is that any person alleging abuse by diocesan personnel is to report the crime to the civil authorities, and the diocese, and that policies exist to deal with such cases.

He also reminded his people that 'The Charter' "does not have the force of Church law, since the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cannot enact Church laws without the approval of the Holy See. Approval was riot sought for 'The Charter.' Therefore, it is incorrect and inaccurate to claim that anything in 'The Charter' is binding, obligatory, mandated, required, etc."

The Wanderer interviewed Bishop Bruskewitz by telephone on January 14, and asked him to elaborate on his objections to 'The Charter.'

"My principal objection," he said, "is that it is a flawed document. It has some positive elements for sure, but it also has some elements that, in my view. are objectionable.

"The 'Essential Norms,' which derived from 'The Charter' were enacted by the Holy See as particular for the law for the United States, but only after they had undergone amendment, and change through discussion with various offices of the Holy See. The 'Essential Norms,' just as all Church and civil laws, are being carefully observed by the bishop and the Diocese of Lincoln.

" 'The Charter.' however," he added, "has not been enacted into law by the Holy See. So it does not have legal binding force. If the Holy See wants 'The Charter' to be particular law for the United States, it would be very simple for the Holy See to enact it as such, and then it would be scrupulously obeyed by the Diocese and bishop of Lincoln:

Does the bishop have any problems with 'The Charter's' mandate for "safe environment" programs in Catholic parishes and schools? The Wanderer asked.

"We have no problem if the safe environment programs are moral and in accord with Catholic morality, and we have safe environments in our schools and institutions here.

"Our emphasis is that the teachers, other adults and parents especially, are strictly trained to help their children and know how to recognize abuse. We do it through the parents and teachers, rather than aim it at the children."

A Questionable Remedy

Bishop Bruskewitz raised another concern during his interview, and that is the claim by some members of the National Review Board that they have "episcopal authority." a claim he said was made by Illinois Justice Anne Burke in an interview with the Archdiocese of Chicago's newspaper, The Catholic New World.

Asked by reporter Michelle Martin for the June 22, 2003 report about what she sees as her role for the National Review Board. Burke answered:

"The board was created by the bishops to delegate some of their authority in the face of the sex scandal....

"Our commitment is to the lay people of the United States, and that's what I think we came to understand. That's not what I thought at the beginning. We're in essence a subcommittee of the bishops' conference.... [ellipses in original]. As it turns out we're the only voice of the laity there, and it's a powerful position. Everyone has taken it extremely seriously, as we have to do it. Otherwise. the laity won't have a voice."

Bruskewitz commented that one of the problems he sees "with the homosexual/pedophile scandals in the Church, as horrible as they are, is a questionable remedy that would go in a direction that would cause long-term damage. This includes, for instance the claim of members of the National Review Board to have 'episcopal authority.'

"I think it would be a grave mistake to revert to some of the abuses of the past, such as lay investiture in the Middle Ages, in which case the cure is worse than the disease — as bad as the disease is:'

He also expressed his concern that some of the recent recommendations made by the National Review Board's audit team, headed by a former FBI official, indicates "that there is a de facto conviction that all bishops and priests are untrustworthy, and therefore must be constantly monitored, checked, controlled, and audited."

And that suspicion, he added, extends down to every lay person involved in some form of service to the Church.

"What am I to say to the retired schoolteacher, who spent a life teaching children, and now volunteers to teach catechism in her parish? That she is supposed to be mug-shot, finger-printed, checked by the FBI on the assumption that she is hiding a criminal past or that she is going to turn into a criminal at some time in the future?"

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