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Catholic Panel Recommends Defrocking Abusive Priests

According to the draft proposal, those with a single sexual incident in the past could remain if they met certain guidelines.

In addition, the panel said all cases of alleged sexual abuse would have to be reported to civil authorities.

The report from the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse will likely spark debate at the meeting of bishops in Dallas June 13-15, when the church leaders will vote on whether to enact the recommendations.

The Catholic Church has been mired in controversy since reports uncovered hundreds of instances of child molestation committed by members of the U.S. priesthood. The committee called the situation “a crisis without precedent in our times.”

Within the report, bishops expressed regret for the past behavior of the offending priests and the manner in which the church dealt with the incidents. They made clear plans to take action to restore faith in the Catholic Church.

“The damage caused by sexual abuse is devastating and long-lasting,” the report said. “We are profoundly sorry for the times when we have deepened its pain by what we have done or by what we have failed to do. We reach out to those who suffer. We apologize to them and offer our help for the future.”

The committee did not recommend a much-discussed “zero-tolerance” policy, advocated by many who believe that a priest with any record of child molestation should be defrocked. Instead, those convicted of molesting one child would be put before a diocesan review board, consisting of mostly lay people, which would determine whether he could return to the clergy.

The panel also called for a more transparent process in dealing with sexual abuse allegations, saying, “in the past, secrecy has created an atmosphere that has inhibited the healing process, and in some cases, enabled sexually abusive behavior to be repeated… Dioceses will not enter into confidentiality agreements except for grave and substantial reasons brought forward by the victim.”

The report did not say whether the bishops would send the final version of the plan to the Vatican for approval, but Archbishop Harry Flynn of Minneapolis/St. Paul said the council would ask the Holy See to approve the plan and enact any necessary changes in church law to allow for its implementation.

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