Bishop Wilton Gregory, the conference president said, ”From this day forward no one known to have sexually abused a child will work in the Catholic Church in the United States.”
“We bishops apologize to anyone harmed by one of our priests or our tragically slow response in recognizing the horror of sexual abuse.”
The new charter reads, “Diocesan policy will provide that for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor — past, present or future — the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry.”
Under the new policy, priests who molested children in the past or commit acts of abuse in the future will technically remain priests, but will not be allowed to perform active ministry like Mass or teach in a parochial school. Instead, they will be allowed to work in a monastery or in other restricted settings.
Under the policy, priests still can be defrocked, but the decision would remain that of the local bishop, who would act on advice of an advisory board comprised mainly of lay people.
The policy, which falls short of zero tolerance advocated by victims? groups, was approved by a 239 – 13 vote. U.S. bishops will now send the policy to the Vatican for approval. The Vatican has indicated it would oppose a zero-tolerance policy.
If approved, the policy will become binding law throughout all U.S. Catholic churches.
There is no indication of how long it might take the Vatican to review the policy.
Survivors of sex abuse by priests voiced their frustrations to the bishops’ decision to back away from zero-tolerance.
“This is akin to telling a street killer in the city we’re sending you to the country,” said Mark Serrano of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. “They will find children to prey upon.”
The policy, which has been worked on since April meetings at the Vatican, is a response to a child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the church since January. The scandal has lead to the resignation or dismissal of four bishops and more than 250 priests and has prompted some 300 lawsuits from victims.
Additional elements within the policy include prohibiting dioceses from signing confidentiality agreements with assault victims in civil lawsuits over sex abuse, unless the victim insists.
It would also require bishops to report all claims of sex abuse of minors to law authorities, and establishes boards of lay people to examine complaints and assess the diocese’s response.
A national review board would annually audit whether dioceses were in compliance with the overall policy.