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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 02:34 GMT 03:34 UK
US bishops sorry for sex abuse
Campaigners outside Dallas summit
Campaigners want zero tolerance of clerical paedophiles
The leader of America's Roman Catholic bishops has opened a summit on clerical sexual abuse with a frank apology to victims of predatory priests.

As Bishop Wilton Gregory begged forgiveness from all those touched by the sex abuse scandals which have rocked the US Catholic Church, bishops meeting in Dallas said they were likely to back a zero tolerance policy towards paedophiles in the priesthood.


In my own name and in the name of all the bishops, I express the most profound apology

Bishop Wilton Gregory
Delegates are discussing ways to protect children from abuse by priests and what to do about clergy suspected of paedophilia.

Four bishops and nearly 250 priests have resigned or been suspended following allegations of sexual misconduct.

At the end of the week, the conference will adopt a charter of conduct setting out how to respond to future incidents of sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

But there are differences of opinion over a controversial clause that would allow priests suspected of a single case of abuse in the past to remain in the Church.

Apology

Addressing nearly 300 prelates gathered for the summit, conference chairman Bishop Wilton Gregory expressed remorse for the scandal.

US Church sex abuse scandal
Four bishops resigned
Nearly 250 priests resigned or suspended
At least 300 cases filed
Two priests committed suicide after being accused
One priest shot and wounded by alleged victim

"In my own name and in the name of all the bishops, I express the most profound apology to each of you who have suffered sexual abuse by a priest or another official of the Church."

He said the clergy was responsible for "months, and years, and decades of tremendous suffering and pain, especially for the victim-survivors and their families", insisting that the "failures of the past must not be repeated".

The bishop's comments were the most forthright apology by a national Catholic leader since the scandal erupted in January.

Bishop Gregory called on any victims of abuse by priests to come forward, and for any priests involved in abuse to turn themselves in.

"If there is any bishop who has sexually abused a child or young person, I ask you to report this fact to [Rome] so that justice and the Church will be served and you will be able to live honestly with your own conscience," he said.

'Scarred for life'

After the bishop spoke, delegates listened in silence as four victims of clerical abuse told their stories.

Archbishop Harry J. Flynn (L), Barbara Blaine of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (R)
Bishops have described victims' testimony as 'heartbreaking'

One victim, Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher, from Alaska, told the bishops she was molested as a child by a seminarian her family had befriended.

"This crime has left deep scars on my soul," she said.

Another, Craig Martin, from Minnesota, said he had come forward "to break the silence and the pain that was killing [him]".

They urged the bishops to take a "zero tolerance" approach and oust priests found guilty of a single instance of abuse.

Many victims also want those church officials who moved known paedophiles from parish to parish to be sacked.

The bishops are working from a draft document which reflects the Vatican's position that clergy may remain in their positions until a pattern of abuse is established.

But Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, head of America's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, said bishops were moving closer towards a policy of rooting out all paedophile priests.

Tackling abuse

The report the prelates are to vote on is a draft document called the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

It expresses "great sorrow and profound regret" for the abuse of children and young people by priests, and promises to reach out to victims and their families to promote healing and reconciliation.

It also proposes strict measures for dealing with allegations of abuse.

  • Each diocese is to set up a review board, comprised mainly of lay people.
  • If the victim is a minor, the diocese will be required to report the accusation to the authorities.
  • A priest under investigation will be removed from his normal duties, and if the allegation is proved he will be removed from the priesthood.

A final vote on the document will be taken on Friday.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rob Watson in Dallas
"Deep in prayer and deep in crisis"
The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

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12 Jun 02 | Americas
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