The U.S. bishops’ zero tolerance policy for clergy sexual abuse, established with the 2002 Dallas Charter, remains an open question for Voice of the Faithful®. Among the reasons for our concern: (1) Minnesota Public Radio reports St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt made false statements under oath about his knowledge of a priest left for years in ministry after being credibly accused of sexual abuse. (2) Great Falls-Billings (MT) Bishop Michael Warfel returned a priest to ministry although a civil lawsuit against the diocese names this priest as one of the abusers the diocese failed to remove. (3) A priest in the Fresno (CA) diocese reportedly was named a pastor after a civil case declared him guilty of child sex abuse—he was even put in charge of a parish school. (4) Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn, previously convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse, attends USCCB semi-annual meetings with no hint of sanctions for his failures. Indeed, an arbitrator ruling recently against the KC diocese said "this Diocese as presently constituted will not mend its ways."
In February, VOTF asked Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, USCCB president, about the specific case in Montana and whether Bishop Warfel’s actions conformed to the Dallas Charter. Copies went to the chair of the National Review Board, the director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, and the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S.
We received no answer.
We sent a follow-up letter (and copies) in April asking, again, why a priest in Montana still identified in a lawsuit as an abuser would be returned to ministry. Has “zero tolerance” been abandoned? We received no answer.
Yet the bishops claim in their semi-annual meetings that they are doing better than ever at addressing the problem of child predators in the Church. The gap between fact and "PR" looms large. So we ask again: Why are bishops not adhering to zero tolerance and why are they facing no penalties?