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US Bishops OK Revised Sex-Abuse Policy

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U.S. bishops OK revised sex-abuse policy

Victims’ advocates wanted more civil oversight

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 — Rejecting criticism that the proposal was watered down by the Vatican, U.S. Roman Catholic bishops on Wednesday endorsed a revised sex-abuse policy that aims to rid the clergy of molesters. The bishops voted 246 to 7 with six abstentions to approve the new plan, which stipulates that priests should be removed from public ministry — celebrating Mass, teaching in Catholic schools, wearing a Roman collar — after “even one act of sexual abuse of a minor.”

THE POLICY is virtually assured of becoming church law, binding on all U.S. bishops, after a final Vatican review. Negotiators from the Holy See and United States reworked the policy at the Vatican’s insistence after officials in Rome became worried that Americans weren’t doing enough to ensure due process for priests.

The head of the U.S. bishops conference had earlier told NBC News that he was “absolutely confident” the changes would protect children.

“I do not believe they have been watered down in any way,” Bishop Wilton Gregory said on NBC’s “Today” show. “I feel even more comfortable because now we have a procedure to do all of the things that we decided to do together in Dallas,” where U.S. bishops met in June to draft a policy stressing bishops’ authority to pull priests out of their jobs as soon as an alleged victim made a claim.

Gregory described the changes as “procedural revisions” that do not alter the substance of the Dallas policy.

The bishops’ vote follows 10 months in which at least 325 of the nation’s 46,000 priests have resigned or been removed from their posts because of accusations of sex abuse, with cases dating back years, and even decades.

Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed this year against dioceses all over the country, and thousands of angry Catholic parishioners have joined reform movements.

LAY REVIEW BOARD ‘SATISFIED’

The policy allows bishops to conduct a confidential, preliminary inquiry when a molestation claim is made to determine whether it is plausible. If it is, the priest is to be put on leave and go before a clerical tribunal.

Bishops are compelled to obey local civil laws when it comes to reporting abuse claims, but critics noted that many states exempt clergy from reporting allegations.

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, chairman of a special review board of lay Catholics,

said the board was “satisfied” that the revised policy was “a workable and very reassuring document.”

The Washington Post reported that Keating was assured that church officials would report promptly to civil authorities when they receive an allegation of abuse of someone who is still a minor.

“The charter has moral authority, and its reporting requirement is unambiguous,” he said.

MORE EXPLANATION SOUGHT

Bishop William Lori, one of four Americans who negotiated the changes with Vatican officials last month, said that “it may be that people who are in such pain right now can’t see” the positive changes. “It may take some time.”

Lori and other negotiators on Tuesday presented a report to their peers, some of whom asked for more explanation on a text they had only 11 days to study, instead of the usual weeks or months.

The plan stresses that accused priests should go before church tribunals to determine whether they should be defrocked.

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George said groups that have “misunderstood” the revisions as a weakening of the original policy should “read it again with the help of a canon lawyer.”

A few bishops have suggested amendments to the policy, George said later Tuesday, but they are “very minor, some technical terms. Nothing substantial has changed.”

Lori said the Vatican mainly wanted to make explicit that accused priests have a right to a church trial to defend themselves, which was only implicit in the original plan.

The Vatican also insisted on including the standard statute of limitations in church law; victims must file complaints by age 28. But Lori said bishops can ask Rome for a waiver, and if that fails, they still have administrative powers to remove guilty priests from active church work.

Gregory added that Pope John Paul II indicated he would give “serious if not positive response to those requests” for a waiver.

Dallas Bishop Joseph Galante noted that the bishops had earlier formed the lay review board and an Office for Child and Youth Protection to ensure that dioceses meet the new standards. The office will issue an annual report on prelates’ compliance starting next year.

CRITICS SPEAK OUT

Victims’ advocates said the new plan retreats from the promises the church made in Dallas and that the process will be too cumbersome and secretive.

“The gulf between bishops and the victims and lay people in the church has grown wider by the vote today,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests. “Today there’s a broader burden on the victims.”

Those critics feel the new plan leaves too much discretion to the bishops on issues such as whether to report abuse claims to civil authorities. They are particularly upset that the document includes no measures to sanction prelates who do not follow the policy.

The activists, barred from speaking to reporters in the lobby of the prelates’ hotel, gathered across the street to question the bishops’ assertion that their new plan shows the church has transformed itself.

Victims and lay people had unprecedented access to church leaders at the Dallas gathering in June, holding private talks with cardinals and addressing the full meeting of bishops. No such discussions have been scheduled this week even though the Survivors’ Network said it requested a role.

Another group on Tuesday released a database with the names of 573 priests who have been accused of abuse since 1996, along with information about 290 cases in which the priest was left unidentified.

The list, at www.survivorsfirst.org, was assembled by 10 Boston-area Catholics operating as Survivors First, and was culled from U.S. newspaper articles and, in some cases, court documents. Survivors First has allegations from victims against 2,100 clerics in its files, but is still researching many of the claims.

Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston

The crisis started with revelations last January that Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law knowingly reassigned a priest who had been accused of abuse, and quickly spread to other dioceses.

Law, who has taken more criticism than any other bishop this year, said he was voting for the revisions. “We have a lot of challenges. Our work isn’t done,” he said. “But thank God we are where we are today. We’re in a much better place than we were 10 months ago.”

STAND AGAINST IRAQ WAR

In a separate action, the bishops were to vote later Wednesday on a proposed statement directed at the Bush administration and its threat of going to war with Iraq.

The proposal declares that the prelates “find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature.”

Gregory delivered a letter to President Bush in September that raised doubts about a pre-emptive military strike.

Gregory told Bush that the bishops’ 50-member administrative committee had serious moral questions about “any pre-emptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq.”

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OK, this is Christianity, a religion right? When did it become a monopoly? I thought religion was about faith, not about shit like this. The Vatican has been conning people for 2,000 years and people are blind to not see it....

This is silly...voting to revise something that shouldn't have to be revised in the first place.

If a priest molests a kid, you either chop his pecker off or you ban him from being a priest. Simple as that. :blown:

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Sometimes I cant stand religion...What pisses me off more is how it makes some people so damn blind.....I've had actual conversations with family members who are very religious and they say that alot of these reports of sex abuse are false because people just want money from the church.....Such bullshit....

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