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Monday, 11 November, 2002, 22:12 GMT
US Church rethinks sex abuse stance
Bishops at the meeting
The new text will be put to a vote at the meeting
Roman Catholic leaders in the United States have been urged to heal divisions caused by a year of clerical sex abuse scandals.

Church leaders are meeting in Washington to revise their "zero tolerance" stance on paedophile priests after criticism from Pope John Paul II.


We will not step back from our compassion for those who have been harmed or from our determination to put into place policies that will protect children

Bishop Wilton Gregory
Conference president Bishop Wilton Gregory said the crisis - involving a number of high-profile sex scandals - had "fractured" relations among the clergy and churchgoers, and said priests felt "unfairly judged" because of the misbehaviour of a few colleagues.

But Bishop Gregory denied any backtracking from policies outlined in a charter adopted by the US Church at a meeting in Dallas in June.

"We will not step back from our compassion for those who have been harmed, or from our determination to put into place policies that will protect children," he said.

The pope has described the Dallas charter as "vague and imprecise".


It takes many years before someone can face these terrible experiences in their childhood

Carmen Durso
lawyer for alleged victims
Under the charter, bishops called for removing priests if any credible accusation was made against them no matter how much time had elapsed since their offences.

But now, over a four-day conference in Washington, they must revise the text, taking into consideration a statute of limitation which has outraged campaigners for victims' rights.

The statute, which establishes that any claims for victims' compensation must be made within 28 years of the alleged crime, is guaranteed to be adopted because of the Pope's support.

Another amendment to the Dallas charter rules that a priest under investigation for child abuse must not have his name released to the public until a verdict is reached in his case.

Protesters
Victims' groups accuse the Church of putting clergy first

Campaigners have accused the Church of putting its clergy before its flock.

"The Vatican's underlying concern may not be protecting children but preserving the privilege and status of priests and bishops," Linda Pieczynski, a spokeswoman for Catholic reform group Call to Action, told the French news agency AFP.

A lawyer for alleged victims of paedophile priests in Boston, Carmen Durso, dismissed the 28-year rule:

"Not one of the 70 victims I represent is younger than 30. It takes many years before someone can face these terrible experiences in their childhood."

'Source of confusion'

But Cardinal Francis George of Chicago defended the new text, which is due to be put to a vote during the Washington conference.

"The Dallas goals are intact so that children are protected and the victims are assisted and the means remain for the removal from the ministry of anyone who has been involved in such a sin or crime," he said.

The Pope publicly criticised the Dallas charter on 18 October, saying the text was "difficult to interpret" and could become "the source of confusion and ambiguity".

"In some respects [it is] difficult to reconcile with the universal law of the Church," he said.

Four prelates chosen by the Vatican have been working alongside four US bishops on the revision of the text.

The text adopted this week in Washington will 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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
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01 Nov 02 | Americas
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