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US Catholic orders to look after their abusive priests

Leaders of male religious congregations in the United States have decided that sexually abusive priests should be kept away from children but not expelled, a less restrictive plan than the zero-tolerance policy that the country's bishops adopted for diocesan clergy in June.

Victim advocates immediately criticised Saturday's plan, saying it gives orders too much freedom in disciplining guilty priests. They also noted the policy was not mandatory, since the conference does not have the authority to make the plan binding.

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men, an association of heads of groups such as Bendictines and Jesuits, also acknowledged their members had sometimes failed to sufficiently discipline errant clergy in the past.

"We are deeply sorry for that and publicly apologise for whenever and however we have failed victims or families," they said in the document, which won overwhelming approval by the leaders. "These religious priests or brothers who have molested children or adolescents have broken the bonds of trust invested in them. We feel this hurt deeply."

The vote came at the conclusion of the organisation's annual meeting, where spiritual leaders discussed how the abuse policy American bishops approved two months ago in Dallas could be adapted for their religious communities. About 15,000 of the 46,000 US priests belong to the orders.

Conference leaders, drawing on the findings of experts on sex offenders, said they believe some abusers can recover and serve the church in administrative jobs far from young people.

In their document at the weekend, the religious orders pledged the men would undergo treatment and remain under close watch. They also added language, suggested during the floor debate, that anyone who violated restrictions set by their orders could be dismissed.

Religious order heads tackle clergy sex abuse charter issues
Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) | Bulletin July-Aug 2002
US Conference of Catholic Bishops | Restoring Trust: A Response to Sexual Abuse |
Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People


13 Aug 2002