Web site categorizes clergy involved in sexual abuse cases

by Eric Convey
Monday, September 16, 2002

http://www.survivorsfirst.org

A new Web site is lifting some of the secrecy surrounding Roman Catholic clergy accused of molestation.

Survivorsfirst.org is operated locally but organizers plan to build a national database on alleged perpetrators.

The site lists priests who are the target of allegations, placing each in one of three categories. The first category includes those against whom legal action has been taken. The second lists priests removed from parishes by bishops and the third gives details of clergy involved in settlements.

``The victims have asked us (for this) because it helps them locate abuser-specific support groups,'' said site operator Paul Baier. Representatives of parishes also support the idea because it will make it easier to tell whether a current or former priest was accused of abuse, he said.

Baier is a leader of Voice of the Faithful, which wants to democratize some parts of church operations. But he said survivorsfirst.org is legally distinct from the organization.

``I'm doing this as an individual right now, but we hope to incorporate it into the SNAP or Link-up or Voice of the Faithful,'' he said. SNAP, or the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, and Link-up are groups that work to help victims of abuse.

Organizers of survivorsfirst.org said the site may be updated to include priests targeted by allegations that have yet to produce action by bishops or the courts. Additionally, it might someday contain such extensive data as the names of each offender's supervising bishop.

The new Web site evolved as some priests step up efforts to protect clergy from false accusations and as one prominent priest in the Archdiocese of Boston fights for his reputation. On a broad scale, members of a group calling itself the Boston Priests Forum are waiting to see whether their concerns are reflected in new archdiocese guidelines for dealing with priests. The clergymen want assurances that the archdiocese will try to protect the reputation of a priest until allegations against him have been proven.

A source familiar with the archdiocese's rule-making process said changes are being considered at the highest level. Meanwhile, Monsignor Michael Smith Foster, the canon lawyer who heads the archdiocesan tribunal that considers requests to have marriages declared null, is again on paid leave while allegations against him are reviewed.

His accuser, Paul Edwards, made allegations last month, only to withdraw them in court. He had never presented them to the archdiocese. Edwards voluntarily stepped aside but was reinstated Tuesday.

But unfettered by the constraints that attended his status as a plaintiff in a legal case, Edwards met with officials from the archdiocese Thursday and renewed his allegations. Foster expressed dismay and proclaimed his innocence through a spokeswoman. Edwards has refused repeated requests for comment.

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