NCR Home Page
Subscribe to NCR
Special: Church in Crisis
National Catholic Reporter ®
Dallas Notes


Lastest Update
Click Here

No. 10- 8:00 PM 6/16 TF/TR
Bishops urged, in a most unusual morning, to press for reforms beyond sex abuse policy

No. 9- 11:00 AM 6/14 TR
Bishops urged, in a most unusual morning, to press for reforms beyond sex abuse policy

No. 8- 9:15 AM 6/14 MP
Bishops issue ‘profound apology,’ hear victims’ stories, strong calls for reform

No. 7- 9:00 PM 6/14 TF
NCR Editor Tom Roberts assesses Dallas meeting on “News Hour”

No. 6- 1:45 PM 6/13 TF
Bishops caught in the middle as meeting opens

No. 5- 10:00 AM 6/13 TR
Serious questions for wider church loom after Dallas meeting

No. 4- 9:45 AM 6/13 TR
For victim leader Clohessy, years of work lead to 15 minutes before the bishops

No. 3- 4:30 PM 6/12 TF
Arriving in Dallas, bishops greeted with more bad news

No. 2- 11:00 AM 6/12 TF
U.S. bishops, facing church division, lack authority to set U.S. course

No. 1- 4:35 PM 6/11 TF
Cardinal lashes out against U.S. media as it prepares for Dallas

Posted 5:30 P.M. CST Monday, June 17, 2002
Number 11

Bishops agree to remove sex offenders from ministry

New charter demands ‘zero tolerance’

NCR Staff

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted overwhelmingly June 14 in favor of a national policy that excludes any priest guilty of sex abuse from continuing in ministry and requires the bishops to immediately turn over any allegation of sexual abuse to civil authorities.

“No second chances. No free strike. … We have voted to take every step possible, as bishops, within our canon laws and our powers, to eliminate any loophole that an abuser could try to use,” said Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops’ conference who described the new Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People as “rigorous” and “unprecedented.” Gregory said, “As of today, this charter binds all bishops to a rigorous, mandatory policy to protect children and stamp out child sexual abuse by priests and deacons in every diocese across the country.”

Approval of the charter, which passed by a vote of 239 to 13, appeared to reflect a widespread sentiment among the bishops that anything less than a zero-tolerance policy would leave the bishops open to question about their commitment to protecting children. Though several bishops voiced reservations about removing a rehabilitated priest from ministry who may have committed a single offence years ago, the consensus was that the bishops had no other choice than to approve a severe and stringent policy that made no exceptions for special circumstances or individual cases.

“It’s necessary to pass this policy with its flaws, some very deep flaws indeed,” said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.

Cardinal Avery Dulles, retired Archbishop Francis Hurley of Anchorage, Alaska, and Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., protested the unforgiving nature of the charter.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn, N.Y., also spoke to what he thought was the unfairness of a document that applies retrospectively to all priests guilty of some form of sexual abuse and focuses more on the errors of priests than on those of bishops, who some people see as equally culpable in the sex abuse scandal if not more so. “We have deflected the primary anger of the Catholic people from the bishops to the priests,” said Sullivan, who told his fellow bishops that they had arrived at “a standard of unforgiveness” that he said jeapordizes the relationship of trust between priest and bishop.

In addition to removing all offending priests from ministry regardless of when an offense may have occurred, the policy establishes a national Office for Child and Youth Protection to assist dioceses in the implementation of “safe environment” programs. The new office will audit dioceses’ adherence to policies and will publish an annual public report on dioceses’ implementations of the standards set forth in the charter. A national review board appointed by the president of the bishops’ conference will oversee the work of the Office for Child and Youth Protection. Among its other tasks, the review board will commission a study of the nature and scope of the problem within the Catholic church in the United States that will include statistics on perpetrators and victims. All dioceses must also put in place a diocesan review board dominated by laity that will consider allegations of sexual abuse about clerics or other church workers.

Fr. Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, observed that in voting on a national policy the bishops found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Good priests will feel they are bearing the brunt of what is in some measure bishops’ own failures, Silva said, who spoke of the need for bishops to be as accountable for their misdeeds as priests will be made for theirs.

“They’re going to have to be very careful about how they enforce this,” Silva said of the bishops’ new policy, which he said threatened to alienate priests from their bishops.

The charter passed by the bishops is a statement of commitment that does not need Rome’s approval. The accompanying norms do, however. They put in place procedures for applying the charter and will be submitted immediately to Rome for a recognitio that will make them binding on all bishops

Members of victims’ groups complained that while the new policy removes all abusive priests from ministry it does not automatically laicize them. Laicization is a complicated and time-consuming process, however, and the Vatican has expressed more qualms about automatically laicizing errant priests than it has about removing them from ministry. Jesuit Fr. Tom Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America, said the bishops’ decision to opt for removal from ministry rather than automatic laicization may reflect a belief that this policy will be more acceptable to the Vatican. Under the new policy, an offending priest cannot present himself publicly as a priest, wear clerical garb or celebrate Mass publicly. If he or his bishop does not seek his removal from the clerical state, he is to lead a life of prayer and penance.

Republican Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma was appointed chairman of the new national review board. Also appointed to the board were Washington D.C. attorney Robert Bennett and Judge Anne Burke, a child welfare expert who serves on the appellate court in Chicago. Both the national review board and the National Office for Child and Youth Protection will make the bishops accountable for their actions or for any failure to comply with the charter, Gregory said.