FAQ: Bishops' Conference on Sexual Abuse

What the bishops' conference is, what it was asked to accomplish, and how the prelates voted.

Friday's Vote
What did the U.S. Catholic bishops decide on Friday?

The Charter they approved (

read it

) by a 239-13 vote would allow some past abusers to technically remain priests. However, the abusers would be barred from any work connected to the church--from celebrating Mass to teaching in a parochial school to serving in a Catholic soup kitchen. They would also be barred from presenting themselves as priests or wearing clerical clothes.


Priests still could be defrocked (removed from the priesthood), but this decision would be left to the priest's bishop, acting on the advice of an advisory board comprised mainly of lay people.

The new Charter also:

  • Requires that dioceses report any accusation of sexual abuse of a minor to law enforcement officials;
  • Calls for diocesan review boards to assess accusations and determine the diocese's response. The boards would be made up primarily of lay people;
  • Prohibits dioceses from signing confidentiality agreements with victims in civil lawsuits over sex abuse, unless the victim insists;
  • Requires ministry to victims, such as support groups and counseling

    So did the bishops adopt zero tolerance?

    It depends who you ask. The Charter would prevent face-to-face contact between abusers and the public. However, victims are calling for abusers to be automatically and permanently defrocked, not simply barred from ministry.

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