In a departure from the position adopted by Catholic bishops regarding abusive priests last month, Roman Catholic religious orders may allow sexually abusive priests to remain within the religious community. The leaders of the 125 religious orders in the United States will meet in Philadelphia next month to discuss the growing scandal involving numerous alleged cases of sexual abuse and pedophilia by priests.
In a meeting of the US Conference of Catholic bishops in Dallas last month, the US bishops agreed to remove from priesthood any priest who has been convicted of sexual abuse. However, of the 45,000 Catholic priests in the US, 15,000 belong to religious orders, which do not fall under the jurisdiction of bishops. The Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which leads the Catholic orders in the US, may decide that abusive priests will remain within the protection of the Catholic Church where they will be cared for as if they were seriously ill, according to the New York Times.
Among the suggestions for a policy on abusive priests is the creation of specialty institutions. Father Canice Connors, president of the told the Times: “Maybe even a new religious order could arise out of all of this. There are parallels in history. Whole communities were founded to take care of lepers. These men are not lepers, but society is regarding them that way.”