Bishops to Continue Barring Abusive Priests From Ministry


New York Times

June 17, 2005

CHICAGO, June 17 - The nation's Roman Catholic bishops voted overwhelmingly today to continue barring abusive priests from public ministry, one in a set of policies written three years ago as the American church was engulfed in a clergy abuse scandal.

Agreeing to extend the so-called "zero tolerance" rule for five more years, the bishops also voted to spend up to $1 million to pay for part of a study that will look at why and how the cases of sexual abuse in the church had happened in the first place. The study is expected to cost far more - perhaps as much as $4 million more - but church officials said they intend to seek outside funds from foundations and others.

In 2002, the bishops had first adopted their anti-abuse policies, known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms, under extremely tense circumstances, after months of allegations against priests for abuse and against clergy leaders who were accused of being aware of the abuse. But during today's meeting in Chicago, the debate was swifter, the written ballot votes lopsided: 229 to 3 in support of the Norms; 228 to 4 in favor of the Charter.

"We go back to the words of our Holy Father: There is no place in the priesthood for anyone who has offended a child, who has molested a child," said Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "That has held. That has been a point of discussion, but that has held."

Still, critics of the policies came from both sides. Some bishops expressed concern that barring of all abusive priests from ever ministering publicly might be too extreme and counter to the Christian teachings of forgiveness and redemption, but others insisted that now was not the time to lessen the strict rules. And some groups that advocate for the victims of clergy abuse said that the policies do not go far enough and are not being carried out uniformly in dioceses around the country.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that he saw significant improvement in recent years, but that he also wanted to see other, still tougher policies: the specific inclusion of seminarians and nuns in the church's anti-abuse rules; a requirement that accused priests' names be posted on diocese Web sites; and a mandate that bishops personally go to each parish where allegations of abuse have been made.