Dallas (CNSNews.com) - A group of Catholics who say priests sexually molested them or their loved ones aired their grievances with several bishops and cardinals Wednesday, on the eve of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual meeting here.
"It is simply too early to say whether [the meetings] have made a difference," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "We will know six months from now, six years from now. Then we'll be able to tell by their actions, not their words," he said.
Clohessy said it would be a "disservice" to children and to the church if SNAP were to raise expectations that the meeting had produced some fundamental change.
Several bishops and cardinals met with the sex abuse victims and their families at the victims' request, and some of those bishops later said the victims' views would be taken into account as the bishops draw up a plan to deal with future sex abuse accusations.
The bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is intended to restore the trust parishioners have - or used to have - in their priests.
Despite their restrained response to Wednesday's meeting, Clohessy said SNAP members remain hopeful that the bishops will enact a policy that ensures zero tolerance for predatory priests.
"As hard as it is, we keep our hopes up that somehow, some of the trauma, experience and heartache they have heard today will make an impact," he said.
Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis, head of the Conference's Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, said the meeting with SNAP members made for "quite an emotional afternoon." He expressed the hope that the bishops' charter will be "more productive because of the meeting we held today."
Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP, outline the three main points her organization wants to see in the charter's final draft.
According to SNAP, any priest who has molested a child must be removed from the priesthood; any bishop or church leader who has "aided and abetted" accused priests must be removed from their posts; and all records of accusations, settlements, and personnel moves must be open to investigation.
"If the bishops and cardinals truly understood the depth of the pain and suffering the victims and family members have experienced....the first thing they would do is put children first, to make sure no child is ever put at risk in any Catholic institution," Blaine said.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., said that there is no room in the priesthood for "criminal priests" who abuse children.
"We have come here to make sure that this never happens again," McCarrick said. "We have come here to make sure that words of the Holy Father will be verified, manifested, and affirmed by the whole church in the U.S., that there should be no room in the priesthood for anyone who would hurt a child or a young person."
Mark Serrano, who sits on the board of directors of SNAP, said it was good that the bishops heard first-hand accounts of sex abuse by priests. But that's not enough, he said.
"This issue is not about just a few messed up priests," said Serrano."This is about felony sex offenders, about bishops who have decided to keep them in the priesthood, and that's why we appealed to archbishop Flynn's committee.
"Listening comes easy. Talk is cheap. Moral action is priceless," he said.
The meeting between SNAP members and Catholic clerics did not come easy.
After weeks of planning, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pulled out of the meeting last Friday evening, after learning that SNAP had joined a class-actions lawsuit against the Conference.
On Sunday, SNAP announced it would pull out of that lawsuit, and that's when the bishops agreed to go ahead with the meeting.
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