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US bishops to ignore Vatican lawyer's advice

Catholic bishops in the United States say they intend to continue turning over to secular authorities the names of priests accused of child sexual abuse, despite an article by a Vatican lawyer suggesting they should not do so.

"The bishops are determined to make sure that they don't have people who would abuse children in the priesthood," said Sr Mary Ann Walsh, associate director of communications for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. "The church needs to be a safe environment for all Catholics, especially for children, and the bishops will do what has to be done to make sure it is a safe environment."

Walsh was reacting to comments by the Fr Gianfranco Ghirlanda SJ, dean of canon law at Rome's Gregorian University, who published an article on Saturday in the Vatican-approved Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica declaring that "from a canon law perspective, the bishop and the superior are neither morally nor judicially responsible for the acts committed by one of their clergy."

Ghirlanda, a priest and Vatican City appeals court judge, also said bishops should avoid telling congregations that their priest has been accused of abuse if the bishops believe the accused priest won't reoffend.

Since the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted in January, numerous bishops in states that do not require reporting of allegations have begun voluntarily to report such allegations under pressure from the public and prosecutors.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said he expects the bishops next month to debate a requirement that they report allegations of abuse to secular authorities, regardless of what local laws require.

Vatican reservations emerging over U.S. direction on sex abuse (CNS)

San Francisco Chronicle

22 May 2002