Leaders of Roman Catholic religious orders in the US adopted a policy this weekend that allows priests guilty of child sexual abuse to remain in the priesthood. The leaders, who met in Philadelphia at the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, approved six proposals regarding sexual abuse by the clergy. The proposals will be forwarded to the conference’s 300 religious communities as suggestions. The conference, an umbrella organization that is independent of the US Conference of Bishops and represents one-third of the nation’s priests, holds no authority over its members.
“Because of who we are, as religious living lives in the witness of the community, we are also called to compassionate responses to any among us who has committed this abuse,” reads a statement by Rev. Ted Keating, the Marist priest who is the conference’s executive director. “He is still our brotherÉHe remains a member of our family. Just as a family does not abandon a member convicted of serious crimes, we cannot turn our backs on our brother.” Keating also left open the possibility that the orders might establish communal houses for abusive priests where they would be allowed to perform priestly functions. A speech by Conference President Rev. Canice Connors, which called for recognition of the soul of the recovered abuser, was called “an insult to victims, bishops and regular Catholics,” by Mark Serrano, a national board member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests.
The Feminist Majority joins victims’ advocates and laity groups in a swift and strong reaction to the decision announced by conference leaders. “Where does this leave the laity? What about the children who are abused?” asked Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. “There needs to be a policy that offers strong support for the victims and strong punishment for the abusers.”