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Monday, 16 December, 2002, 17:06 GMT
Pope tackles US sex abuse
US Catholic bishops
It is the worst crisis in the US Church's history
The Vatican has approved a revised plan to combat child sex abuse in the scandal-tainted US Roman Catholic Church.

The guidelines, worked out after lengthy discussions between the Vatican and US Catholic bishops, provide for the punishment and dismissal of priests found guilty of child sex abuse.

Cardinal Law
Cardinal Law: Accused of covering up paedophilia

The approval came in a letter from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re to the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Wilton Gregory.

Three days ago the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, resigned amid allegations that he mishandled cases of sex abuse in his archdiocese.

He had been criticised for moving alleged paedophile priests from one parish to another.

Condemning child sex abuse by priests, Cardinal Re's letter said "the Holy See is fully supportive of the bishops' efforts to combat and to prevent such an evil".

Compensation

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says problems remain with the US Catholic Church's loss of credibility because of the scandal.

New procedures
Clergy cannot cover up for subordinates
Abusers to be removed from ecclesiastical ministry
Possible dismissal from the clergy
Every case is punishable
Paedophile priests not to be transferred

And some of the Church's dioceses face a financial crisis over compensation to victims which could amount to tens of millions of dollars.

In November Vatican and US Church officials revised an earlier plan drawn up by US bishops to deal with the sex abuse scandal, which has put the American Church under enormous pressure to reform.

The Vatican wanted the original proposals watered down. It argued that some definitions were confusing or legally ambiguous.

'Protection for minors'

Under the new rules, priests are to be removed from the ministry if they are found guilty of "even one act of sexual abuse of a minor".

David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
Protesters say the Church bowed to Vatican pressure

But a commitment to reporting all allegations of sex abuse to the police - contained in the earlier US bishops' plan - was dropped.

Cardinal Re said the new rules provided "effective protection for minors" while also safeguarding the rights of an accused priest to have a fair hearing.

"The universal law of the Church has always recognised this crime as one of the most serious offences which sacred ministers can commit and has determined that they be punished with the most severe penalties," Cardinal Re said.

The new rules prohibit the transfer of a paedophile priest to another parish, to prevent any bishop in future covering up criminal acts by a subordinate - the scandal that triggered Cardinal Law's resignation.

Lawsuits

The Archdiocese of Boston is facing an estimated $100m in claims from about 450 alleged victims.

Allegations of child sex abuse have also rocked the Church in other parts of the United States.

Cardinal Re said the vast majority of priests were virtuous and their reputation had been tarnished by association with the wrongdoers.

"It appears necessary to devote every available resource to restoring the public image of the Catholic priesthood as a worthy and noble vocation of generous and often sacrificial service to the People of God," he wrote.

The US Church has been engulfed in the scandal since January, when it emerged that officials in Boston had secretly transferred priests accused child sex abuse to other parishes.

Documents released earlier this month revealed that one priest had a history of molesting boys, another had secretly had a girlfriend and a third had given cocaine to a teenager with whom he was having sex. All three had been reassigned to new jobs by the archdiocese.

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"It's my hope and prayer my resignation might help the Archdiocese of Boston"
The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

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