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US Bishops vote to strip priest abusers of their ministry

Vowing new vigilance against those who "exploit the priesthood for immoral and criminal purposes," the US Catholic bishops voted on Friday to remove from his ministry any priest who sexually abuses a minor, including reformed and repentant clerics who decades ago engaged in a single act of molestation.

While the new rules fell short of requiring that such clergy be defrocked -- the "zero tolerance" standard pushed for by victims of priestly abuse -- Bishop Wilton Gregory applauded their severity.

"No free passes. No second chances," said Gregory, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "If you abuse a child, you will be stripped of your ministry forever."

Gregory also apologised for the bishops' "tragically slow response" in cracking down on pedophile priests and clergymen who molest teenagers and children.

Nevertheless, the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," adopted on a 239-13 vote, proposes no specific sanctions on bishops who fail to remove problem priests from parish ministry.

In addition, Vatican officials must approve key parts of the bishops' plan. Otherwise, it will be difficult for the US bishops' conference to enforce it if individual bishops vary from its requirements.

Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn criticised his fellow prelates for skirting the question of whether the growing number of bishops already accused of administrative malfeasance should resign.

"We have tried to deflect our people's anger from the bishops to our priests," Sullivan said.

While dramatically tougher than past policy, the charter outraged victims of priestly abuse, who wanted any priest who has ever molested a child to be defrocked.

"Based on their vote today, a sexual predator can still carry the title of father, and that's one of the tools of a sexual predator," said Mark Serrano, a member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "We have zero accountability for bishops."

Sheila Daley, a member of the liberal Catholic group Call to Action, called the policy "weak" and "inadequate."

Restore Trust: A Response to Sexual Abuse (US Bishops)
The bishops do Dallas (Eugene Kennedy, author "The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality", in Salon
Cautious skepticism over new sex abuse policy among US Catholics (AP)
USCCB President Opening Remarks of Bishops Conference (EWTN)
Catholic bishops and sex abuse (database of US bishops' response to sex abuse, Dallas News
Some Priests Concerned By New Policy (AP)

San Francisco Chronicle

17 Jun 2002