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Saturday, 15 June, 2002, 02:52 GMT 03:52 UK
Bishops agree sex abuse safeguards
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, left, and Cardinal Bernard Law lead the standing ovation
The policy must be approved by the Vatican
Roman Catholic bishops in the United States have voted to adopt new rules aimed at stamping out the sexual abuse of children by priests.

The vote came at a summit on the crisis in Dallas, Texas, which was called in an attempt to restore confidence in the Church.

Bishop Wilton Gregory
Bishop Wilton Gregory offered "profound apology" for the scandal
Under the new rules, clerics who molest a child will be barred from face-to-face contact with parishioners but will be able to stay in the priesthood.

But - to the dismay of some victims - the bishops stopped short of ruling that abusive clerics will necessarily be expelled from the priesthood.

The chairman of the gathering, Bishop Wilton Gregory, has begged forgiveness from all those affected by the abuse allegations which have rocked the US Catholic Church.

Bishops stood and applauded after they approved the measures on a 239-13 vote, which came after two days of intense debate.

The policy must now be approved by the Vatican in order to become binding in all US dioceses.

Victims angry

"From this day forward no one known to have sexually abused a child will work in the Catholic Church in the United States," Bishop Gregory said.

Under the plan, clerics who have abused children will be able to remain priests but they will not be able to undertake active work in the Church, including celebrating Mass or teaching in a parochial school.

Priests could still be defrocked but such a decision would be made by the presiding bishop, who will be advised by an advisory board made up mainly of lay people.
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

There had been speculation that the bishops would adopt a "zero tolerance" policy under which abusive priests would be automatically defrocked. But the idea was dropped during the debate.

Some victims were angry at the outcome.

Mark Serrano, of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said: "This is akin to telling a street killer in the city `We are sending you to the country'," he said.

"They will find children to prey upon."

Bishops hope that taking a firm stance will reduce criticism over allegations that senior clerics were aware that paedophile priests were being moved from parish to parish.


At the opening of the conference, Bishop Gregory frankly acknowledged the pain the Church had caused and expressed remorse for the scandal.

"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."

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

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]".

Across the street from the summit, around 50 protesters sang hymns and held placards calling on the bishops to support victims of sexual abuse by priests.

The BBC's Tom Carver
"America's paedophile priests should no longer receive the protection of their bishops"
The BBC's Tom Carver
"The final document will be put into Church law"
David Clohessy, Survivors Network
"There is no place in the ministry for someone who would abuse a child"
The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

Boston cardinal quits

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23 Apr 02 | Europe
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