U.S. Bishops Approve Revised Sex-Abuse Policy
By Julie Zimmerman and John Bookser Feister
The United States Catholic bishops, meeting in Washington, D.C., Nov. 11-14, overwhelmingly approved revisions to their sex-abuse policy that calls for removing offending priests from ministry.
Both the Charter for the Protection of Young People and its accompanying set of canonical regulations were adopted earlier this year, then revised after the Vatican objected to portions of the policy. Some officials were concerned that it did not sufficiently ensure due process for accused priests.
The revisions approved Nov. 13 in Washington had been worked out in Rome by four U.S. bishops and four top Vatican officials. The new policy permits bishops to make an initial, confidential inquiry when a priest is accused of molestation. If the accusation is deemed plausible, the priest is placed on leave and goes before a clerical tribunal.
The new policy requires that bishops follow local civil laws when it comes to reporting abuse claims, and the bishops pledged to report all accusations involving children to civil authorities. The revised policy details the Church's statute of limitations, which requires a victim to come forward by age 28, although bishops can ask the Vatican for a waiver in special cases. Review boards including lay people will continue to monitor abuse claims, but the policy reasserts that it is the bishops who have the authority to manage clergy.
The bishops anticipate receiving Vatican confirmation of the norms, giving them the force of Church law throughout the United States, before the end of the year.
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and the accompanying set of canonical regulations, also requires that all allegations of abuse be reported to law-enforcement officials. The charter marks the first-ever uniform national policy on clergy sex abuse for Catholic dioceses. The 15-point plan includes:
Julie Zimmerman is managing editor of AmericanCatholic.org and
sister sites. She previously served as a writer for PlanetFeedback.com
and as religion editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer. She has an
M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago. John Bookser
Feister is editor of AmericanCatholic.org and sister sites.
He has master's degrees in humanities and theology from Xavier University.