(Remember, today's are closed, with no press conferences afterwards. Because, you know, we're all about transparency)
Roman Catholic bishops from California and several other states agreed today to provide information on the extent of child sexual abuse in the church after researchers promised to make "purely technical" changes in the way the data are collected, organizers of the study said.
The agreement by the holdout bishops, reached behind closed doors at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops here, clears the way for the $250,000 study to proceed without changing its goals, Washington lawyer Robert S. Bennett said.
"No questions have been changed, no expectations have been lessened," said Bennett, a member of the National Review Board, a panel of prominent Catholic lay people established by the bishops a year ago to examine the sex abuse scandal and monitor the bishops' response to it.
....California's bishops, who had voted in early May to call for an immediate halt of the study, issued a statement saying they were "impressed with the responsiveness and professionalism" of the researchers from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "Next week, each diocese in California will undertake the reporting process for the survey," the statement said.
In the spring, the researchers sent a lengthy anonymous questionnaire to all 195 U.S. dioceses with the goal of determining how many priests have been accused of sexual abuse since 1950, how many victims they had, how their cases were handled and how much money the church has spent on legal fees, counseling and settlements with victims.
Kathleen L. McChesney, a former FBI official who heads the church's new Office of Child and Youth Protection, said the researchers agreed today to code some of the information on accused priests to protect their identities while ensuring that they are not counted more than once if they served in multiple dioceses.
No names are used in the survey, and the results are to be made public at the end of the year only in the aggregate, without a diocese-by-diocese breakdown. But bishops in California, Illinois and some other states had questioned whether the priests could be identified by their date of birth, ordination and other details, violating state privacy laws and possibly contributing to lawsuits.
Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the pope's ambassador to the United States, opened the conference by urging the bishops to persevere in the face of adversity. "We all know that we are going through difficult times and that some real problems within the church have been magnified to discredit the moral authority of the church," he said.
That tone was echoed by several bishops at a mid-afternoon news conference. Anytime priests and bishops show "feet of clay, it's an opportunity for people who don't like what we teach to say we're hypocrites," Bishop Joseph A. Galante of Dallas said.
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn said that the sex abuse scandal has "distorted the image of the church" and that "nobody knows the real story of what the church has done" to feed the poor, care for the sick and house the homeless.
Why, oh why is it so difficult for these people, who make a living of preaching personal responsibility, to accept responsibility? Why can't they say, "Our actions and the actions of the predator priests we have protected have conspired to conceal the real good that the Church does. Further, our actions have now put much of the good that the Church does in many dioceses at risk as services are cut because of financial problems brought on by our actions and, perhaps the potential pool of those interested in serving in leadership in the Church as priests is diminished as young men look at the way we do business and determine that this isn't something they want to be a part of. We're sorry that we made this destructive mess"
In the only sessions open to reporters, the bishops never discussed the abuse scandal. Instead they debated policy statements on American agriculture, Native Americans, deacons, women and laypeople.