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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 16:57 GMT
US bishops 'modify zero tolerance'
Cardinal Francis George with the Pope
The Pope blocked the original US policy
Senior Roman Catholics in the US may agree to Vatican demands for restrictions on when priests suspected of abusing children may be punished.

US bishops drew up a policy of "zero tolerance" in June amid a damning abuse scandal which called for removing priests if any credible accusation was made against them.


I think it strengthens the ability of victims to be allowed to report abuse and not feel intimidated

Cardinal Francis George
But the Vatican said the American plans for dealing with paedophile clerics were vague and could be confusing.

Vatican officials and leaders of the US Church have now agreed that priests should generally have to be punished within 10 years of the offence, according to Cardinal Francis George who was in Rome to review the sex-abuse policy.

The Vatican would, however, be able to decide if a case should be dealt with after the statute of limitations had expired, under the changes which will be presented to a full meeting of US bishops this month.

'Clarity achieved'

Cardinal George said the suggestions also included establishing a new system of tribunals to judge a priest.

He insisted that the key elements of the new policy remained intact after this week's meetings in Rome.

Cardinal Francis George
Cardinal George insisted that the policy had not been watered down
"I think it strengthens the ability of victims to be allowed to report abuse and not feel intimidated," Cardinal George said, without revealing the full details of the document agreed at the Vatican.

"The goal of protection by removing is still intact."

He said it wasn't fair to say there had been a watering down of the policy devised to act on a slew of allegations of priestly abuse and, in some cases, the covering up of wrongdoing by Church leaders.

"What we achieved is a kind of clarity," Cardinal George said.

Abuse definition

Procedures for reporting abuse were clearer than before, he indicated, and the definition of sex abuse was also clarified.


We're back to an ambiguous, murky policy that priests, not laypeople, will have the key role in interpreting

David Clohessy, Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests
"It doesn't have to be an act of intercourse," he was quoted by The Washington Post as saying.

"[But] if someone says you're lusting after me in your heart, you can't bring that to the court."

Victims' groups which had opposed the Vatican's rejection of the plans last month criticised the compromise now reached.

David Clohessy, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told the Chicago Tribune that he feared that older priests who were not brought to court under the statute of limitations could abuse more children.

And he told The Washington Post: "Catholics need to know that abusers will be taken out of ministry and stay out of ministry, regardless of when their first offence occurred."

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
He added: "We're back to an ambiguous, murky policy that priests, not laypeople, will have the key role in interpreting."

The reworked policy will be presented to a meeting of US bishops in Washington starting on 11 November and, if adopted, would be returned to the Vatican for final approval before becoming binding on all US Catholic clergy.

Many dioceses had already started to implement the "zero tolerance" policy, despite complaints that some clergy were being targeted to placate victims, before the Vatican objections.

The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

Boston cardinal quits

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19 Sep 02 | Americas
15 Jun 02 | Americas
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