In a formal response issued today, the VaticanÑalluding to ambiguities and conflicts with canon lawÑrejected the sex abuse policy passed last June at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. While details remain undisclosed, various circulating reports indicate that recognitio, or Vatican approval to mandate adoption of the policy, was withheld because of concern that priests would be denied due process, particularly with removal of the statute of limitations. Interestingly, while the Vatican insists on ensuring legal rights for the accused, the pope objected to the policy’s provision to immediately report allegations of sex abuse to local law enforcement, saying “that could jeopardize the traditionally pastoral relationship between a bishop and his priests,” according to the New York Times. This position comes even after Pope John Paul last April acknowledged sex abuse as a sin and civil crime.
Delivering the papal message in Rome, US Conference of Catholic Bishops president Wilton Gregory insisted “The officials of the Roman Curia who have been involved in discussions on this matter this week, have shown great pastoral care in their sensitivity to pain caused to victims, their commitment to the need to protect society from perpetrators of abuse, their regard for rights of accused and the anguish caused to faithful Catholics by this sinful and criminal conduct,” reported CNN. The church’s handling, however, disappoints victims’ groups. “As is always the case, the actual Vatican decision will be somewhat murky But the problem is, historically, when there is the least bit of gray area, the least bit of wiggle room, bishops have sided with abusers,” said Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests’ (SNAP) executive director David Clohessy, according to the Washington Post. Without recognitio, many fear bishops will disregard the approved policy altogether.
Despite being called a “zero-tolerance” policy, the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” 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, nor do the policies address 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.
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.