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Vatican Weakens Sex Abuse Policy

Revisions that weaken a policy on dealing with sexual abuse by priests were released yesterday. Adopted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas in June and rejected by the Vatican last month, the new policy was drafted by a Vatican-appointed commission of Church leaders, according to the New York Times. The revised policy will be considered for approval by American bishops next week before it is sent to Rome in a second attempt to receive recognition, or Vatican approval. One of the major changes to the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” was the elimination of the requirement to report “any allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is currently a minor” to local authorities, instead requiring that bishops comply with local reporting laws. However, as of March only 26 states required reporting sexual abuse of minors to law enforcement, and only 10 of those specifically require reporting by members of the clergy, according to the Boston Globe. In fact, the Church has a history of lobbying for exemptions from laws requiring the reporting of child sexual abuse, the Globe reports.

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, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Vatican would also retain more power in the investigation of abusive priests, requiring American bishops to forward all sexual abuse cases to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, which would have the power to determine whether to prosecute cases that have passed the statue of limitations, according to the NY Times. Victim support groups criticized the revision for reducing some of the power of lay boards while under the Dallas policy the board would provide an “assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests,” under the revision the boards would simply advice the diocesan bishop in his assessment of the allegations, according to the Globe.

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 does the policy 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.

Sources:

Boston Globe 11/5/02; New York Times 11/5/02; Los Angeles Times 11/5/02; US Conference of Catholic Bishops release 11/4/02; Text of original and revised policy

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