The US Conference of Catholic Bishops passed by a wide margin earlier this week its revised sex abuse policy, first passed by the US Bishops last June in Dallas. Criticized by victims groups, the Vatican revisions to the policy remained in the final version, which is expected to receive Vatican approval later this year. The Vatican rejected the bishops’ original policy, claiming that it failed to address the rights of priests accused of abuse, according to the Washington Post.
Victims groups are critical of the revised plan for several reasons, including the fact that the revisions eliminated the requirement to report any allegation of sexual abuse to local law enforcement, not just in those states where such reporting is already required by law. In an attempt to address this criticism, the bishops added a nonbinding section of the policy committing themselves to report all abuse to the police, according to the Associated Press. In addition, groups are concerned that the new policy allows accused priests to remain in active ministry until evidence has been collected to support allegations of abuse. The Vatican’s revisions also removed wording that would allow for the reporting of past sexual abuse by priests. The new wording goes back to canon law, which establishes a statute of limitations of 10 years. The revised policy also does not address sex abuse perpetrated on adults, only minors.
A major concern for victims groups is that the policy does not address penalties for bishops who knowingly transferred sexually abusive priests from parish to parish, effectively covering up their abuse and allowing them to continue molesting boys and girls. The bishops addressed this concern in their meeting this week, offering a “statement of episcopal commitment” in which they pledged to be more stringent in their criticism of each other in handling sex abuse cases, according to the Christian Science Monitor. However, only the Vatican has authority over bishops.
Despite being called a “zero-tolerance” policy, the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” adopted by the bishops merely removes a priest convicted of abuse from his parish and forbids him from engaging in public presentations. The provisions do not completely remove sex offenders from priesthood. 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 300 US priests have been removed from their ministries for sex abuse.