Of the 252 bishops at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, 239 nixed a zero tolerance policy Friday and opted instead to adopt a policy that merely removes abusive priests from ministry. Following two days of intense debate, the approved “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” called for any priest convicted of abuse to be removed from his parish and also forbids such a priest from engaging in public presentations. However, the provisions do not completely remove sex offenders from priesthood. Laicization, or mandatory removal from priesthood, is too troublesome and lengthy a process, explained Reverend Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America. “Keeping [offending priests] under church supervision” offers a means of “protecting the community,” he added. Just how this policy will protect the community remains questionable, as pedophile priests have always been and will remain under church supervision. Also missing from the policies formed by the Conference was true accountability for those bishops who knowingly transferred abusive priests from parish to parish, allowing these priests to continue their sexual abuse of hundreds of children, both girls and boys.
Victims groups such as Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) expressed disappointment and disbelief after Friday’s vote. According to SNAP national director David Clohessy: “[The bishops] got it backwards. Look at these men, they are priests first and sexual predators second.” Peter Isely, a member of SNAP said, “It isn’t zero tolerance. It is simply not what Catholics wanted.” Bishops adopted policies on priest pedophilia in 1992; however, many were voluntary and therefore inconsistent. The current charter mandates notifying civil authorities of sexual abuse allegations involving church officials and establishes a system with internal accountability. A National Review Board, headed by Oklahoma Governor Frank A. Keating and chaired by victims of priest sexual abuse, will evaluate each diocese’s performance and disclose its findings. Effective for the next two years, the current Charter will be submitted to the Vatican, under the request that it become mandatory law for the US church.