Bishop's Admitted Sexual Misconduct Stuns Diocese

From: <>
Date: Thu, 4 Jun 1998 19:57:33 EDT
Subject: Tinge of Disappointment

This article from the New York Times on America OnLine was mis-displayed in such a manner that I had to copy it to a file to see its full width... one wonders if some fanatical apologist at AOL was trying to discourage its disemination. One wonders at the spiritual "values" of one who feels a mere "tinge of disappointment" at the horrific abuse of the confidence of the youngsters abused so many years ago. The Catholic Church, in its appallingly arrogant and low-grade-human manner, never fully acknowledges even the most blatant guilt it bears. God only knows what horrors remain buried in its guilty breast.


Bishop's Admitted Sexual Misconduct Stuns Diocese


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- At 7:30 Wednesday morning, the people attending Mass at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church here received an invitation, not to a parish event or ecclesiastical service, but to a one-on-one discussion with their pastor about relationships and "past hurts."

"I'm going to use this opportunity as a teaching opportunity," the Rev. Timothy Lynch, Mary Immaculate's parish priest, said in an interview. "If people are carrying the burden of past hurts I'd hope to be able to offer some counseling and be an instrument of reconciliation."

Personal counseling at churches and question-and-answer sessions at Catholic schools were some of the ways members of the Diocese of Palm Beach dealt Wednesday with the shock of the resignation of their bishop, after he admitted to having sexually molested five boys early in his priesthood. Another way was to ask victims of the bishop, Joseph Keith Symons, to come forward.

Although Symons, 65, is not the first Roman Catholic bishop to resign for sexual misconduct, he is believed to be the first such high-ranking church official to have admitted to sexually abusing minors.

The news stunned a small diocese with a Catholic population of about 205,000 in five Florida counties and underscored the depth of a scourge American church officials say they have struggled to address with more openness in the last five years. But the case came as no surprise to some victims' groups that say sexual abuse by clergy is more widespread than it is generally believed and that the church has yet to adequately deal with the problem.

Symons, a Michigan native who served in Florida since his ordainment in 1958 and had led the Diocese of Palm Beach since 1990, left Monday for an undisclosed location for what diocese officials described as spiritual and possibly medical treatment. Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation and appointed Bishop Robert Lynch, of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, as the apostolic administrator of Palm Beach until a successor is named.

"As painful as it is for me and will be for others, I feel it important to make public the reason for my resignation," Symons wrote in a statement released this week in which he apologized "to all of whom I have hurt" and asked others "to pray for me."

"Early in my 40 years of priestly ministry," he wrote, "I was involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with minors."

At a news conference Tuesday, Lynch refused to identify the parishes where the abuse took place but said the case became known five weeks ago when one of the victims, now a middle-aged man, contacted a church official and reported the bishop had molested him for several years when he was a teenager. When confronted with the allegations, Symons confessed and revealed that there were four other victims.

In his written statement, Symons said that "I have in succeeding years tried to live my promises of celibacy and chastity and have immersed myself in my ministry as priest and as bishop." He told Lynch the sexual activity stopped at least 25 years ago but Lynch on Tuesday made a point of encouraging other possible victims to seek the diocese's assistance.

Scott Cupp, an assistant state attorney in Palm Beach County who handles crimes against children, said the cases may be too old for prosecution but that the information is being disseminated to state attorney offices with jurisdiction for their review.

In recent decades, two American archbishops have resigned over sexual liaisons with adult women and the Catholic church has paid millions of dollars to victims who claim their priests abused them, often in out-of-court settlements. Officials with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops say an ad hoc committee of bishops started meeting five years ago to develop a policy to address increasing reports of sexual misconduct by clergy.

The committee came up with five principles that call for a prompt response to allegations of abuse and the removal of offenders from ministerial duties and their referral to medical evaluation and treatment. The policy also calls for reporting incidents to law enforcement, reaching out to victims, including paying for therapy, and discussing incidents with members of the church "as openly as possible."

The officials pointed at the Diocese of Palm Beach's announcement about Symons at a news conference as a reflection of the new approach. In a written statement, Bishop Anthony Pilla, president of the bishops' conference, called Symons' departure "a difficult moment" but added that "the well-being of the whole Church demands that her leaders not give, either by action or omission, any indication of tolerance of inappropriate and abusive behavior on the part of those who serve in her name."

But some victims' groups say application of the conference's policy varies widely among parishes and that incidents of sexual abuse are still shrouded in secrecy. Often the first accusations are ignored and victims are treated like enemies, they say, or priests are removed quietly.

Prosecutors tend to sit on allegations unless victims are numerous, victims say. It is not unusual for victims to wait a long time before reporting the incident, usually after many years of therapy, but many do not bother to ever come forward.

"They blame themselves much more often than in other cases and they are more pessimistic about change happening," said David Clohessy, national director of "Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests," an 8-year-old support group based in Chicago with more than 3,000 members. "They weigh their own credibility against what is often a very popular, charismatic priest and they think, 'I don't have a chance."'

Others argue that a fundamental problem is that by restricting the priesthood to a pool that leaves out women and sexually active men, the church automatically ends up with a higher risk of attracting undesirables. Jason Berry, the author of "Lead Us Not Into Temptation" (Doubleday, 1992), a history of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the United States, said incidents the church regard as aberrations are really part of "a deep, systemic problem evident worldwide.

"They can't arrest the problem without focusing on the root of the problem -- that only unmarried men can serve as priests," Berry said.

In Palm Beach, Symons was credited with fostering the growth of parishes and financial stability. Some saw his emphasis on raising money for education as atonement for his sins. Monsignor John McMahon, of Saint Joan of Arc Church in Boca Raton, said for several years the bishop also invited psychologists and lawyers to speak to priests in the diocese about pedophilia.

"He asked us if anyone had this orientation to please seek treatment," the monsignor said. "He wanted to make us aware."

Now, no one seems to know what prospects Symons faces in the church.

"There's obviously a tinge of disappointment," said the Rev. Michael Edwards, a spokesman for the Diocese of Palm Beach, "but also the recollection of a man that was very compassionate and very gentle and meant so much to so many people."

Marie Rollande Leclerc, a retired nurse and parishioner at Symons' Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens, said she would have never expected this from a priest she described as "so dignified."

"I still have my faith but I'm very, very disturbed," she said. "It is better to have some love and pray for him. It's just as if somebody had passed away."

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