Bishop Wilton Gregory, who was elected President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2001, has won praise for his handling of abuse cases when he came to the Diocese of Belleville. According to the Associated Press, Gregory's diocese investigated allegations of sexual abuse by some of its priests in the 1990s. Thirteen priests and one deacon were ultimately removed, and Gregory earned praise for the openness with which he handled the issue.

Gregory was among the first to call sex abuse a crime--breaking from the earlier attitude that it was a moral weakness, according to Time magazine.

In spring 2002, Gregory visited St. Mary's Church, a parish in his diocese which was affected by the growing national scandal. A week before, the diocese's Fitness Review Board removed the Rev. Edward Balestrieri from St. Mary's, after the Trenton diocese relayed an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor while Balestrieri worked in New Jersey in the 1970s. Gregory said the allegations were made by a "young man," according to the Associated Press.

In June 2002, Gregory said he would review the files of priests who had already been removed from church ministry to see if they should also be formally laicized (defrocked) by the Vatican (read more).

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