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Report: Vatican Won't OK Abuse Plan

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Report: Vatican Won't OK Abuse Plan

Sun Sep 22,12:14 PM ET

By FRANCES D'EMILIO, Associated Press Writer

ROME (AP) - The Vatican next month will make known its position on the new U.S. bishops' strategy to eradicate sex abuse among clergy, a policy expected to raise objections at the Holy See.

The Vatican press office on Sunday said it would not comment about a report by the National Catholic Reporter, a liberal, U.S.-based publication, that the Vatican would not grant legal approval to the guidelines, adopted in June at a Dallas meeting of U.S. bishops.

Without Rome's approval, the bishops' policy amounts to a gentlemen's agreement, as opposed to being enshrined in church law and binding on all American dioceses.

The report Saturday was similar to a recent spate of other articles quoting unnamed sources as saying that the Holy See has several problems with the guidelines, especially those which deal with the protection of priests who have been falsely accused of sexually abusing minors.

On Sunday, the Vatican pointed out what its spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said last month after a similar report in the media.

At that time, Navarro-Valls said that the U.S. norms — the parts of the policy that could become binding under church law — were still under study and that no decision had been taken. He said then, during Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland, that the Vatican would give its response soon to U.S. bishops.

Vatican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said that the Holy See's response would come in October.

In preparing the response, the Vatican has been sounding out its own canon law experts and officials from several Vatican congregations dealing with bishops, clergy and matters of doctrinal orthodoxy.

After months of scandals revealing that, over the past decades, many U.S. priests who were accused of sexual abuse were moved from parish to parish, the American bishops came up with a policy to keep molesters away from parishioners.

But some at the Vatican are concerned that bishops, eager to show their flock that they are vigilant, will take innocent priests away from parish work.

And there is also worry that U.S. churchmen might act hastily in handling cases of accusations.

The Vatican also has its own tribunals, with specific and often slow-moving procedures.

In an indication of Vatican thinking, shortly before the U.S. bishops met in Dallas, a Jesuit magazine, whose articles receive Rome's approval before publication, suggested that bishops should avoid telling their flock that their parish priest had sexually abused someone if the bishops believe the priest will not carry out further abuse.

The provisions which the U.S. bishops are seeking approval for include requiring bishops to report abuse of minors to civil authorities. The Vatican traditionally allows local bishops much autonomy in handling many matters in their diocese.

While the U.S. bishops' guidelines were aimed with coming up with an across-the-board approach in handling abuse scandals, the church in the United States is itself divided over policy.

Last month, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which represents religious orders to which about one-third of the priests in the United States belong, decided to allow most abusers to continue in church work, away from parishioners.

The U.S. bishops had agreed in June to remove all guilty priests from church work, and, in some instances, even from the priesthood itself.

William Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Sunday that the Vatican has not told the Bishops when they will reach a decision on the plan.

"We've heard only positive things" about the Vatican's response to the plan, he said.

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