A panel appointed by the US Conference on Catholic Bishops to help US dioceses enforce the new sexual abuse policy recently urged the nation’s Catholic religious orders to follow the bishops’ more stringent policy rather than the one approved by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. Of the 45,000 Catholic priests in the US, 15,000 belong to religious orders, which do not fall under the jurisdiction of bishops but are overseen by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.
In July, the leaders of the 125 religious orders in the United States approved a policy that allows sexually abusive priests to remain within the religious community. The US Conference on Bishops approved a policy in Dallas in June that calls for any priest convicted of abuse to be removed from the ministry.
The Vatican has yet to give its response to the US Conference on Bishops’ policy, but a senior Vatican official said that the Vatican would most likely respond by the second week of October. “The study of the letter [detailing the policy] is very serious. The real topic of discussion is about how norms for one country fit in with canon law for the whole church,” the official told the New York Times. In many dioceses, canon lawyers are advising bishops to refrain from removing past offenders from priesthood until the Vatican responds.
Canon lawyers in the US and in Rome believe that the Vatican will not agree to the policy unless changes are made with respect to “zero tolerance.” Some Vatican officials have said that the policy is too rigid and too punitive to priests. Canon lawyers have frequently criticized the fact that the policy inflicts the same punition on every offender, not taking into account the individuality of each case.