As the first day of meetings for the US Catholic bishops on child sexual abuse in the church drew to a close today in Dallas, some said that the bishops are close to consensus on a strict “zero tolerance” policy that would defrock any priest who ever sexually molested a minor. “The mood is very strongly in that direction,” Bishop George Niederauer of Salt Lake City told Reuters today. “You’ll find the draft is more strongly in that direction.”An earlier draft of the policy would have removed anyone who abused a child in the future but left room for some offenders who had abused in the past. There will also be discussion about whether to hold accountable bishops who fail to oust abusive priests. “The question of accountability of bishops is a burning issue, and I have reason to believe that particular topic will receive significant debate,” Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Boston Globe. “I clearly agree that topic will be a matter that needs discussion.”
Approximately 300 bishops have gathered in Dallas to discuss the biggest scandal to confront the Catholic Church in the United States. While the church has declined to release statistics, lawyers, newspapers and interest groups have estimated that as many as 1,500 priests have molested children in the last five decades and many bishops have failed to remove priests from the ministry. In this year alone, more than 250 priests have been suspended or removed from their jobs over abuse allegations and four bishops have resigned.