Catholic bishops keep policy barring abusive priests from church work |

Catholic bishops keep policy barring abusive priests from church work

The Associated Press
AP Photo

CHICAGO ” The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops agreed Friday to a five-year extension on their unprecedented policy of permanently barring sexually abusive clergy from church work.

The overwhelming vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops means the American church will stick with the main points of the policy it adopted in 2002 at the height of crisis brought on by molesters in the priesthood. The Vatican is expected to approve the extension.

The bishops’ committee overseeing a review mandated by the original policy spent months soliciting comment from fellow church leaders. The panel concluded that “many, perhaps a majority,” of bishops hope to someday ease the permanent ban on offenders.

Some prelates believe it violates Catholic teaching on redemption ” that any sinner can be healed ” and treats every case equally no matter the severity of the offense.

However, the bishops’ committee said that church leaders agreed now was not the time to soften the policy.

Chicago Cardinal Francis George, a leader in reviewing the plan with Vatican officials, said he was aware it created tensions between bishops and priests. He went as far as calling the permanent ban on offenders “draconian.”

Yet, George said the penalty was necessary to restore trust in church leaders.

“Our real convictions come from the failure of oversight of priests by bishops in the past, and the concern of parents and the protection of their children,” he said.

Victims’ groups say the prelates cannot be trusted to enforce their own plan and called it inadequate. But George said anyone who considers the policy weak, “should talk to the priests who have been affected by this.”

The scandal was sparked by revelations that many bishops had moved guilty priests among parish assignments without warning parents or police. Hundreds of accused clergy have been removed from ministry in the last three years alone.

The policy, known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, not only dictates how bishops should investigate abuse claims, but also outlines what steps dioceses should take to help victims and protect children. A companion document makes the discipline plan for guilty priests church law for the United States.

The bishops took up the two documents separately. The charter was approved 228-4; the second measure, called the norms, passed 229-3.

While the ban on offenders remains intact, bishops did approve changes to other parts of the charter: Church leaders and their critics disagree on the significance of the revisions.

The modifications drawing the loudest protests concern the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel the bishops created that reformers consider critical to monitoring the church.

The revised policy emphasizes that the panel remains under the bishops’ authority and could someday include clergy.

In other revisions, the definition of sex abuse was changed to link it directly to the Sixth Commandment against adultery, which is interpreted as condemning any sexual activity outside marriage.

Bishops also are no longer required to seek a waiver of the church’s statute of limitations from Vatican officials in cases of old abuse claims.

Bishops additionally agreed to dip into an endowment fund to help pay for a multimillion-dollar study on the psychological issues behind abuse by clergy. Church leaders previously commissioned studies of abuse cases that found more than 11,500 molestation claims since 1950.

Abuse cases have cost the church more than $1 billion since then and three U.S. dioceses have declared bankruptcy.

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