May 30, 2002

A ``zero tolerance'' policy toward pedophile priests has drawn opposition from a liberal Roman Catholic group that believes those who commit misdemeanors may deserve a second chance.

The nation's bishops are meeting next month to set new policies on sexual abuse by priests, and a ``zero tolerance'' policy is expected to be a contentious issue.

In a letter to bishops earlier this month, Chicago-based Call to Action agreed that those convicted of felonies should be automatically defrocked, but said some discretion is needed for priests who commit lesser offenses.

``Zero tolerance policies are generally revised after ridiculous outcomes, such as expelling a second-grader who brings a plastic knife to school,'' said Linda Pieczynski, a Call to Action spokeswoman and former Illinois prosecutor.

``Distinguishing the seriousness of an offense based on whether it is a felony or misdemeanor is an objective standard that has worked well in the legal system for over 200 years,'' she said Wednesday.

Church critics and many victims' advocates have demanded expulsion for any priest guilty of molestation, with no second chance allowed.

Call to Action also said the bishops' new policy should include prompt reporting of allegations to police; immediate suspension of accused priests; independent review boards in each diocese and a national review board; and public disclosure of the names of all perpetrators past and present.

With sexual misdemeanors, it said, a priest should serve any criminal sentence and undergo therapy, after which an independent church review board would decide whether he should be reassigned to active ministry. If the priest were reassigned, the church would publicize his past offenses.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said his organization believes that ``if someone molests a child even once, they shouldn't be a priest.''

Call to Action claims 25,000 members in 40 chapters.

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