Nearly 300 US Catholic bishops are expected to vote late today on a proposal for dealing with the sexual abuse of minors. The proposal falls short of the “zero-tolerance” policy favored by victims’ advocacy groups. Under the new proposal, priests who molested children in the past or in the future would be dismissed from the priesthood. In some cases, sex offenders would be permitted to withdraw from active ministry and work in a restricted setting. In addition, bishops would be required to report all allegations of sexual abuse of minors to the authorities. The Church also would not be permitted to sign nondisclosure agreements in settlements of sexual abuse cases unless the victim requested such an agreement.
Bishops say they abandoned the proposed zero tolerance policy because the Vatican seemed unlikely to accept it. “Zero tolerance is going to have a hard time here,” one source at the Vatican stated, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Another Vatican official said: “The church is about reconciliation. Its highest priority can’t be driving out the pedophiles.” 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. In this year alone, more than 250 priests have been suspended or removed from their jobs over abuse allegations and four bishops have resigned.