For victims of clerical sex abuse, the communique U.S. prelates issued after their Vatican summit ended was more significant for what was not said than for what was.
There was no pledge to publicly disclose the names of Roman Catholic priests who molest children, no promise to immediately report abuse claims to law enforcement authorities and no specifics on helping victims.
"This is damage control," said Peter Isely, a Milwaukee psychotherapist who says he was molested by a priest as a teen-ager.
"They have not met with us. The pope has not met with us. He needs to hear what has been done to victims and their families. That would be acting in a Christlike way."
The American delegation announced Wednesday it will recommend moving more quickly to defrock any priest who has become a "serial predator" of minors, but it stopped short of a zero-tolerance policy to dismiss all abusive priests.
The church leaders also will ask the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their June meeting to approve national standards in abuse cases that will be imposed on every bishop and diocese. Each diocese now acts autonomously when such cases arise.
Pope John Paul II also called sex abuse a crime, and expressed solidarity with victims and their families.
Yet the meeting did little to ease the frustration victims feel.
Some wanted the church to ensure errant priests register as sex offenders. Isely, noting the church has treatment centers for abusive priests, wanted the U.S. bishops to create a national treatment center for victims as well.
Janet Patterson of Conway Springs, Kan., sought more accountability for church leaders. She blames the 1999 suicide of her 29-year-old son, Eric, on abuse by their parish priest when he was 12.
She remains bitter that Catholic officials in her diocese knew of abuse allegations against the priest, yet alerted no parishioners. The priest was sentenced to prison for abuses in a different town.
"The way they could restore my trust is if they made a real confession about the cover-up and the fact that they deliberately withheld information from people who were trying to get help for their children," Patterson said. "They deliberately circled the wagons and kept everything in-house."
In 1992, U.S. bishops responded to a wave of abuse lawsuits by developing guidelines for handling molestation claims, but those were nonbinding.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops' conference, said church leaders were confident they had been making "considerable progress" toward protecting children. But since January, when Boston Cardinal Bernard Law acknowledged he allowed a serial pedophile priest to continue to serve, Gregory said that sense of progress "has been all but wiped out."
Some critics have called for Law's resignation. Boston archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Morrissey said that issue was never discussed during the meetings between the pope and the American cardinals.
The Rev. Christopher Coyne, another Boston archdiocese spokesman, said Law did not attend the Vatican's news conference Wednesday because "he didn't want the issue to be about him, he wanted it to be about the conference, and what all the cardinals were trying to do."
Terrie Light, who won a $40,000 settlement from the Oakland Diocese after revealing a priest abused her when she was 8, felt some of the actions the prelates recommended seemed obvious.
"You need to make these priests accountable. No kidding," Light said. "The work that they should have been doing and need to start doing is taking care of victims. They're not talking about that."
The bishops Wednesday also issued a letter to American priests expressing their regret for failing to prevent the sex abuse scandal.
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