Bishop Robert N. Lynch changed his mind about how to handle sexual abuse allegations. He now says victims should go to the police first and then the church.
This is a departure from traditional though unstated church policy, which has historically shunned outside investigation. And the bishop's new position may put him at odds with much of the Catholic hierarchy. .
Lynch said, "We were just getting hammered with 'You're hiding stuff' and 'You're withholding stuff.' " And told the St. Petersburg Times, "We can't do that anymore. The time for that is over."
One of the bishop's priests Rev. Robert Schaeufele had recently resigned after diocese officials confronted him with abuse allegation from the 1970s.
Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said, "You just have to wonder if they did something in the '70s, have they done something lately."
Florida law states that sexual battery on a child under the age of 12 is a life or capital felony and has no statute of limitations. But McCabe also advised that lewd and lascivious molestation of a child has a three-year statute of limitations, beginning on the victim's 18th birthday.
McCabe also said the Catholic Church falls under the same mandatory reporting laws as any other institution and must report to authorities all sexual abuse allegations.
Bishop Lynch claimed, "This diocese has never paid&hush money to anyone." However, Lynch himself was accused of sexual harassment by the diocese's former spokesman. The man then left with $100,000 in "severance pay."
Note: This article is largely based upon "Go to police first, bishop urges" St. Petersburg Times/April 22, 2002 By Matthew Waite