The group of four U.S. bishops and four Vatican officials was charged with bringing the sex-abuse policy approved over the summer by the American bishops in line with church law. Their recommendations will be voted on at a meeting of bishops that begins Nov. 11.
On Wednesday, neither the Vatican nor the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would give any details about the recommended changes. Victim advocates fear the revisions will weaken key elements of the original policy, including its promise to remove priests found guilty of a single instance of sex abuse no matter how long ago.
In a statement released Wednesday in Rome, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George, who led the U.S. delegation, said: "We believe the goals of the Dallas decision, i.e. to protect minors and to reach out to victims, have been preserved and that the Dallas documents have been completed in elaborating normative procedures that respect the rights of priests who have been accused."
The U.S. bishops approved the original policy in Dallas last June and sent it to the Vatican for its approval. But the Vatican refused on the grounds that the procedures did not conform to church law.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, did not comment on the revisions.
But two weeks ago, he said that the Vatican was concerned that the plan did not ensure due process for priests accused of crimes or adequately define sexual abuse. Other observers said the Vatican found the policy gave too much power to review boards that evaluate abuse claims.
Canon law "provides for a judicial process that would allow the priest who is accused of a crime to offer his defense," said Boston College theology professor Francis Sullivan. "The norms do not provide for that process."
Church law, he said, includes "a statute of limitations that prevents someone guilty of a crime 20 years ago from suffering the same penalty."
But the "zero-tolerance" provision in the bishops' policy holds priests responsible for crimes committed at any point.
David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, expressed doubts that the provision will survive. "There's no doubt the charter will be weakened," he said.
Joining George on the commission were Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco, Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., and Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill.