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Beliefnet News

Bishops leave abuse policies largely intact

c. 2011 Religion News Service

BELLEVUE, Wash. (RNS) The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday (June 16) overwhelmingly voted to maintain current church policies on the sexual abuse of children, making only minor tweaks to policies that critics say contain large loopholes.

The bishops voted 187-5, with four abstentions, to make only slight revisions to their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a set of guidelines adopted in 2002 as the clergy sex abuse scandal spread nationwide.

The bishops are expected to continue discussing their sexual abuse policies in private sessions through Friday, when the assembly ends. For the most part, though, they argue the current rules are effective, pointing to a sharp decline in new incidents of abuse since 2002.


But victims’ advocates say recent reports of ethical lapses by church leaders in Philadelphia and Kansas City, Mo., prove that the nonbinding church policies are weak and unenforceable.

“Despite revelations in numerous dioceses showing that abuse has been continuing under the bishops’ current abuse policy and that the policy needs to be overhauled, the bishops … chose to rubber-stamp a nearly identical policy for the future,” said the watchdog website in a statement.

“This is a squandered opportunity and a disaster for children.”

Most of the revisions approved here bring the U.S. bishops’ policies in line with Vatican norms issued in 2010, which equate child abuse with abusing the mentally disabled, and make the acquisition, possession, or distribution of child pornography a church crime.


The bishops also adopted two revisions proposed by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley. One requires bishops to follow civil laws about reporting sexual abuse accusations against fellow bishops to civil authorities, just as they are expected to do for priests.

O’Malley’s other amendment accords the bishops’ guidelines with federal statutes that outlaw pornographic images of children under the age of 18. A previous bishops’ proposal had included only children under age 14.

“Without this change, we will likely experience much criticism and diminished confidence by way of providing exceptions for some circumstances of offenses with minors,” O’Malley wrote in proposing the revision.

The bishops rejected an impassioned plea from Archbishop Francis Hurley, the former head of the diocese of Anchorage, Alaska, to drop their “zero tolerance” policy, which permanently bars credibly accused priests from ministry.


“In the mind of most people, and in my own mind, when we say reconciliation and forgiveness, we mean the embrace of that person back into the community and the fold. We are not doing that with the priests and the priests feel that very much,” Hurley said.

As a retired bishop, Hurley does not have a vote at the bishops’ semiannual sessions, but his comments will “probably color our subsequent debate,” said Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. No bishop, however, took up Hurley’s amendment.

Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., who chairs the church committee dedicated to protecting minors from sexual abuse, said the “zero tolerance” policy is essential to preventing child abuse, restoring trust in church leaders and demonstrating compassion for victims.


“I would find it very difficult as a diocesan bishop to go to a community and say, ‘I’m going to assign as your pastor or associate pastor, a priest who has abused a minor.’ I can tell you that my judgment would be questioned and that priest would not be accepted,” Cupich said.

Cupich said the bishops may again revise their guidelines in the next few years, after a church-appointed review board considers recommendations from a recent sweeping study on the “causes and context” of the scandal.

Cupich also said he is confident the Vatican will adopt mechanisms to ensure that bishops actually follow their own guidelines. The lack of penalties for bishops who break the rules creates a large loophole in current policy, according to victims’ advocates.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment JeannieGuzman

    My response to the following statement is So WHAT!!!! (Bishop Hurley’s comment) “In the mind of most people, and in my own mind, when we say reconciliation and forgiveness, we mean the embrace of that person back into the community and the fold. We are not doing that with the priests and the priests feel that very much,” Hurley said.

    I couldn’t believe it when I read it. Rather than being concerned for innocent parishioners, who have paid dearly in the Priest Pedophilia Scandal by having human services in their parishes cut up to loosing churches that their immigrant forefathers paid for, Bishop Hurley is concerned about Pedophile Priests being hurt because of Zero Tolerance. Evidently, neither is he concerned for the Survivors of the Priest Pedophilia Scandal, who were molested, raped and sodomized by deviate Priests with Psycho-Sexual Problems! If this bishop shakes his head, it probably rattles! Hurley is from Alaska: Also, look at the thousands of abuse cases, up in Alaska, of Native American Children. Their stories are heartbreaking, and yet this bishop from Alaska would propose the ridiculous idea of allowing priests, who often sadistically abused Native American Children, as well as your normal rank and file Pedophile Priest to come back into the ministry. He “floated” the idea not once, but twice. So you can rest assured he’ll bring it up again!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    IOW nothing has changed—including the punishment of molesting priests. St. Louis anyone?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Goodguyex

    There should be relatively little difficulty in both affirming basic civil and constitutional rights for priests (or anyone else for that matter) and also protecting children and teens.

    This is not a contradiction.

    Anybody who thinks otherwise is either foolish, ignorant, or a bigot with an agenda.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    agreed Good, most folk don’t know what to do with their hate.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Allan

    As an ex-Catholic, I know that the priests and bishops tend to be very protective of each other; on the other hand, I know that, because of the deep pockets of the Roman Church, they are more likely to be subject to false allegations.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone just told the truth for a change?

  • Patrick O’Malley

    Parents – keep your children away from Catholic priests.

    Catholic bishops continue to prove that they don’t care about child rape. Priests have raped over 10,000 children in the United States alone in the last 60 years, yet Archbishop Francis Hurley

    thinks these pedophiles ought to be forgiven and returned to ministry.

    You KNOW that means he’s already done this in his diocese, and is yet another bishop that has covered up for yet another pedophile priest. Cardinal O’Malley passes a provision that says that they will comply with civil laws. Really? So it has been an option all along to comply with civil laws?

    There should be a grand jury investigation into every diocese, and they should use the same RICO statutes to prosecute the Catholic church for organized rime, where the crime is raping children and concealing it from the law. We’re not all as “cool on child rape” as the Catholic church.

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