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Friday, 18 October, 2002, 20:46 GMT 21:46 UK
Vatican 'protecting paedophile priests'
Bishop Wilton Gregory meets the Pope
The Pope blocked the US bishops' plan
Victims of sexual abuse at the hands of US Roman Catholic priests have condemned the Vatican after it opposed American bishops' plans to deal with paedophile clerics.

The Vatican said the proposals from the US - which included sacking priests after just one "credible" report of sexually abusing a child - were vague and could be confusing.


Let's look at the rights of victims here - the ones who have suffered the most

Sue Archibald,
Victims' advocate

Supporters of the Vatican said the Holy See was simply trying to develop a policy that protected children while also preserving the rights of accused priests.

But correspondents say the ruling from Rome is a huge setback to the US Church and its bishops, who drew up the plans amid a growing scandal fuelled by many claims of priests abusing children.

Mark Serrano, a national board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the Vatican response "a victory for Vatican bureaucrats and recalcitrant bishops".

'Ignoring' problems

Church leaders in areas such as Boston have been accused of ignoring allegations of abuse from priests and, in some cases, moving known offenders from parish to parish rather than make them face justice.

US Bishop Wilton Gregory
Bishop Gregory said there was little time to decide a new policy
Sue Archibald, a spokeswoman for victims' advocacy group The Linkup, said the Vatican's ruling would allow bishops opposed to the new policy to ignore it.

"It brings us back to the same situation we've been in for the last several years," she told the Associated Press news agency.

"Let's look at the rights of victims here - the ones who have suffered the most."

Clergy 'targeted'

But there have been complaints on the other side that some clergy have been targeted to placate victims.

The policy effectively ruled out rehabilitation for any offending priests and the Pope has said he was worried that punishing clergy before wrongdoing was proved would lead to "summary trials".


We are not stepping back from our compassion for those who've been harmed, nor in our determination to put into place policies that will protect children

Wilton Gregory,
Leading US bishop

The Reverend Robert Bullock, an organiser of the Boston Priests Forum, an advocacy group of more than 100 priests, said he hoped church leaders would respond to the Vatican statement by working to heal rifts between bishops and diocesan clergy.

The US policy - developed in June - "did all the things necessary for victims, but the question is what does it do to due process for priests," he said.

A joint commission of Vatican officials and US bishops will now try to resolve the situation.

The Vatican said there were conflicts between the policy and church law, and expressed concern that some language in the plan was imprecise and difficult to interpret.

'Great understanding'

The head of the American Bishop's Conference, Bishop Wilton Gregory, told a news conference that Vatican officials had shown great understanding.

He said the rebuff did not mean a reversal in the US Church's goal of protecting victims.

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
"We are not stepping back from our compassion for those who've been harmed, nor in our determination to put into place policies that will protect children," said Bishop Gregory, who met the Pope to discuss the matter on Thursday.

He said the US proposals were still on the table but there was little time to agree new guidelines before the next US bishops' conference scheduled for November.

It is unclear how US Church officials will now proceed, as most dioceses have already begun putting the policy into practice.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Willey in Rome
"The Vatican objects to the guidelines"
The BBC's Jane Bennett - Powell
"The Vatican...rejected the proposal (because) it was difficult to reconcile with church law"
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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