SPOKESMAN: The vote 246 yes, seven no, six abstentions. The motion passes.
TERENCE SMITH: Today in Washington, the U.S. Catholic Bishops approved new Church rules that they say provide a process for removing all priests guilty of sexual abuse.
TERENCE SMITH: The document revises a policy approved at a landmark meeting in June. At that session in Dallas, Church leaders invited lay leaders and abuse victims to speak. Craig Martin referred to himself as "John Doe."
CRAIG MARTIN: John remembers the motel that night with the priest, but hardly anything else. John has no idea how he got home. It is only 35 years later that John is starting to remember that horrible night.
TERENCE SMITH: Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the Bishops Conference:
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Both what we have done and what we have failed to do contributed to the sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy and Church personnel.
TERENCE SMITH: The Dallas policy pledged to remove any priest "for even a single act of sexual abuse, past, present, or future." So far this year, more than 300 priests have been removed from ministry. But the Vatican last month called the document "difficult to reconcile" with Church law. Rome sought a review process within the Church for the accused, and a statute of limitations for the accusers.
SPOKESMAN: We are suggesting revisions...
TERENCE SMITH: So Catholic leaders from Rome and the U.S. negotiated changes to the Dallas rules, and those were adopted today. The tone at this week's meeting in Washington was distinctly different than Dallas. Only Bishops were allowed to attend, and Bishop Gregory challenged outside critics.
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: There are those outside the Church who are hostile to the very principles and teachings that the Church espouses and have chosen this moment to advance the acceptance of practices and ways of life that the Church cannot and will never condone.
TERENCE SMITH: One survivor group noted the change in atmosphere.
DAVID CLOHESY, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests: It is a drastic and disturbing change, and we don't know who he is referring to with respect to the enemies he's talking about. But there's a very different tenor, a different atmosphere comes from the leadership of the Conference now.
TERENCE SMITH: Under the new policy, victims must report sexual abuse before they turn 28 years old. Bishops must follow local laws in reporting abuse to civil authorities. And priests who assert their innocence will be tried by private Church courts, courts that don't yet exist.
Cardinal Francis George.
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: Only a trial and the juridical process that surrounds it can judge what happened in a fair and clear way, and then secondly impose a penalty that's truly permanent.
TERENCE SMITH: Victims groups say the policy retreats from the zero-tolerance promise from Dallas, and fails to hold Church leaders accountable for ignoring abuse.
TERENCE SMITH: For more about the new rules, I'm joined by Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishop Gregory, welcome to the broadcast.
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Thank you.
TERENCE SMITH: Can this policy adopted now be fairly described as zero tolerance to abuse by priests?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: It certainly can and, as a matter of fact, the procedures that were approved today by the Bishops really make it possible for the Bishops to act effectively to remove any priest who has even one allegation, proven allegation of abuse of a child.
TERENCE SMITH: And does it guarantee that those priests would be reported to civil authorities as well?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Absolutely. The policy -- the charter demands that and the policy refers to that.
TERENCE SMITH: Does it... these courts that would consider appeals by priests in these cases, would they take precedence over civil courts, or how would that work?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: No. The civil law takes precedence. These are crimes and if someone is guilty of a crime, he must answer to the civil laws that govern our nation or in the various jurisdictions.
These juridical trials -- these cannon law trials allow the Bishop to impose Church sanctions on individuals. The civil sanctions are in place. There is no conflict whatsoever. There is no attempt on the part of the Church to say that, Church courts will trump or outrank civil courts. Civil crimes in the civil society are judged by those standards. These are... these judicial processes allow the Church to impose Church sanctions in addition to whatever civil sanctions are already there.
TERENCE SMITH: But these Church courts would allow a priest to appeal if he says he has been falsely accused?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Yes and that's part of the juridical process, that one who has been accused… before the Church can impose a permanent sanction -- there must be a Church trial for a Church sanction.
TERENCE SMITH: How does this hold Bishops accountable, Bishops who have been accused of ignoring cases of abuse or transferring priests guilty of it… how does this hold them accountable?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Well, first of all it says that in the United States there will be one procedure that all Bishops will follow. Those Bishops… and there have been Bishops and they have acknowledged that they have failed in their judgment. This new procedure says that every Bishop must now follow this procedure, because it is the law of the Church in the United States.
TERENCE SMITH: Many Bishops have apologized for the way they have handled these cases in the past. Is that enough, in your view, to deal with this problem?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: It seems to me that Bishops who have violated the confidence and exercised poor judgment in a local Church must apologize directly to their own people and must enter into dialogue with their own people to find out how best they can, if possible, restore the confidence of the faithful. So it seems to me that the policy sets in place an active and public procedure, but the reconciliation must take place on the local level.
TERENCE SMITH: And so it's up to an individual Bishop to decide how to do that?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: He must. He must. Even though today we enacted a corporate collegial expression of apology, a Bishop who has offended or wounded the confidence in his own local Church cannot simply say, well, I signed that document, too; I accepted that. He must be in conversation with his people.
TERENCE SMITH: In your remarks this week, and we quoted an excerpt from it, you spoke out about Catholics who, you said, were using the Church's and the Bishops' vulnerability… exploiting it was your word -- to advance their own agendas; who were you talking about?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: I purposely referred to individuals. I did not make any reference to any groups of individuals, groups are too large. They involve many, many different types of people with many different opinions. I was referring to those Catholics who have long sought to promote abortion or arrangements that they are describing as family but are alternate... alternatives to the traditional family or families.
TERENCE SMITH: You mean like same sex combinations?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Yes, absolutely -- and ordination of women; those are issues that the church has a very clear position on and a position that will not change. And....
TERENCE SMITH: But you spoke out quite forcefully about that…
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: I did.
TERENCE SMITH: This time… and everyone noted that this was something a change of tone from Dallas and previous statements. Was it a deliberate change of tone on your part?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: It was absolutely a different tone because we're in a different moment. Dallas was a unique moment in the history of the Church in the United States. And it was an appropriate moment. It was a time when we had to focus specifically and exclusively on this issue.
But the Catholic Church has a voice and a very important voice in society that cannot be silenced and will not be silenced in reference to a broad spectrum. And I challenge my brother Bishops to make sure that we do not allow people who are advancing other agendas to come under the tent of a very serious and important moment in the life of the Church… not necessarily to advance reconciliation or clarity or hope on the protection of children, but to promote other issues.
TERENCE SMITH: Was it your feeling that this exploitation, to use your word…
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Yes.
TERENCE SMITH: and criticism of the Church and the Bishops had gone too far?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Well, it certainly has… because of the moment that we're in, we have not been able to speak out as clearly as we should and as we must. And so I decided that this was a moment when I needed to make sure that people realize that we as Bishops, as repentant as we should be and must be, we cannot allow that moment of sorrow to allow other issues to be advanced.
TERENCE SMITH: Under the arrangements you approved today what will be the role of the laity in dealing with cases of priests of sexual abuse and other cases?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Well, first of all, the revised norms that were passed call for a review board in every diocese; most dioceses already have one and have review boards… the vast majority. And those who have not had one for a long time have either formed one or are in the process forming one. It also....
TERENCE SMITH: A lay review board?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: A lay review board. It also means our diocesan national review board is in place and will play an important role in this. It means that pastoral councils and dioceses and financial councils and dioceses and people who are involved with the mission of the Church, laypeople who are involved in the mission of the Church will be more important than perhaps they ever were and I welcome that.
TERENCE SMITH: More important but still consultative and advisory, not decision makers?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Well in the particular issue of the review of allegations of sexual misconduct and in the review of policies, those positions were always advisory, always advisory even under the Dallas charter. A Bishop cannot, cannot abdicate his responsibility for the pastoral leadership of a diocese and for the decision making in those issues.
TERENCE SMITH: So those lay councils -- just to be clear - don't have a decision making role in these cases?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: No. But not to have the ultimate decision making role does not mean that they are unimportant or ineffective.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you believe, and this is a judgment, do you believe that simply implementing this policy that you have approved today will be enough to restore public confidence in the Church?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: No, it's an important first step. It's an important gesture and decision on the part of Bishops to take this matter seriously together. But there… this action must be followed by other actions of transparency, other actions of collaboration, other actions that assure people that the Bishops have taken this very seriously and will take it very seriously on every day that follows.
TERENCE SMITH: You sound as though you're talking about a different era in the American Church in those issues of transparency and...
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: I think we are in a different era in the Church in the United States and I think... I welcome that era and I think the Bishops that are in the Conference welcome that era. There is great good that I believe will come from what has happened, even though it was born of great sorrow.
TERENCE SMITH: Priests in the Boston area have been quoted as saying that there is turmoil in the Church has reduced attendance in Church and has even reduced contributions. Is that a widespread development?
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Certainly the Church in the Archdiocese of Boston has felt this in an extraordinarily personal way. I would not say it is felt in exactly that same way across the country. The impression is often given that every Bishop did it wrong from the beginning; that every diocese lacked policies; that every local Church was somehow guilty of the same problems that have been so severe in Boston and the New England area. That's simply not true.
Every diocese has had to re-examine its situation. Every diocese -- simply because we belong to the same nation and the same Conference -- has been impacted by this, but it is not a homogeneous state of sorrow and pain and protest throughout the United States.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. We'll stay tuned to this new era, as you describe it. Bishop Gregory, thank you very much.
BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Thank you, Terry.