A liberal Catholic group is urging a boycott of the Arlington Diocese's annual Lenten fundraising appeal, saying the diocese has not taken adequate measures in response to the national church's sex abuse scandal.
The group, Call to Action of Northern Virginia, said Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde has not announced the creation of a diocesan review board to handle child abuse allegations against clergy members, as required under guidelines approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last year.
It also called on the diocese to disclose how many people have accused its priests of sexual abuse, how much money has been paid to abuse victims and what type of counseling has been offered to them.
Call to Action, which has clashed with Loverde over various diocesan policies, announced the boycott in an advertisement printed in the Virginia Extra sections of today's Washington Post.
"The major concern is the sexual abuse and why it has not been addressed in the way it's supposed to be addressed in the Arlington Diocese," said Michael Rome, a Call to Action board member.
Loverde's spokeswoman, Linda Shovlain, said the bishop established a permanent board last fall to handle abuse allegations, replacing a panel that had met on an ad hoc basis. Shovlain said the new board, which consists of two priests and seven laypersons not employed by the diocese, has met once, in October, to discuss a mission statement.
Shovlain said that an article about the board will appear soon in the diocesan newspaper, the Arlington Catholic Herald, and that information about the board will be posted on the diocesan Web site when the site is fully set up.
But she said the diocese will not identify the board's members because "some of them are afraid they will be hounded by the press" and because Loverde wants "to give them the freedom they need to carry out their tasks."
As for disclosure of past clergy sex abuse, Shovlain said that Loverde "has not decided what information, if any, will be made public" but that he "has not ruled out anything."
Bridget Mary Meehan, another Call to Action member, said: "The problem with the Arlington Diocese is this secretive clerical atmosphere. . . . There seems to be the same old thing, the clergy protecting the clergy and the church."
The guidelines adopted by the U.S. bishops last year specify that every diocese should have an abuse review board and that a majority of members should be laypersons. But the guidelines are silent on whether dioceses should reveal the names of board members.
Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the Office of Youth and Child Protection at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who is responsible for monitoring dioceses' compliance with new policies on child sex abuse, said in an interview yesterday that publicly naming board members is "the best policy."
"My recommendation . . . is that they do make it public and most of them do," McChesney said. "People who are interested in this issue want to know who the people are."
The Washington Archdiocese, which created its abuse review panel in 1993, does not identify the members, although the identity of the panel's current chairman -- retired Montgomery County Circuit Court judge David L. Cahoon -- became known recently when he testified at a legislative hearing in Annapolis.
The Baltimore Archdiocese identifies members of its review board, which was created in 1993.
In asking parishioners to withhold donations to the Arlington bishop's Lenten appeal, Call to Action reiterated a long-standing demand that the diocese allow girls to be altar servers. Arlington is one of two dioceses in the nation that does not allow girls to serve at Mass. Shovlain said Loverde "will make a decision on this issue when, in his judgment, the time is appropriate."
Traditionally, Lenten appeals are one of the largest sources of annual revenue for Catholic dioceses. In the Arlington Diocese, last year's appeal raised $5.9 million. Lent began yesterday, Ash Wednesday.
Call to Action's newspaper ad asks Catholics to clip a coupon that says "Zero Dollars" and mail it to Arlington's Lenten appeal.
Shovlain said of the call for a boycott, "Financial contributions . . . to the church are freewill donations."