After two days marked by extraordinary speeches and fierce debate, the U.S. Catholic bishops approved a tougher policy on clergy sexual abuse (read excerpts). The bishops voted overwhelmingly to forbid pedophile priests from ever again acting as clerics, but stopped short of expelling them from the priesthood. While some welcome the new Charter as a "compassionate compromise," critics say the policy doesn't go far enough.

Plan Draws Fire From Victims' Groups Read the Full Charter

Deborah Caldwell's on-scene diary: The bishops didn't get it before. Do they now?

Overview "Deep Scars on My Soul": Victims Speak "We Have Failed": Wilton Gregory
"The Arrogance of Power": Scott Appleby

On-scene diary: "Angry, slit-eyed and still..."

The Issues
Zero Tolerance Lay Participation Prevention Ministry to Victims Full Disclosure Victims' Hearing

Zero Tolerance

According to the new rules, all offending priests would be removed from active ministry. In many cases, they would also undergo laicization (defrocking), which would rescind their pensions and other benefits. Elderly priests might be given the option of a "life of penance" in a restricted environment (like a monastery) rather than being defrocked.

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Note: On June 14, the U.S. bishops adopted a new Charter on sex abuse (read excerpts) which significantly altered several of the draft proposals below. Most importantly, the new rules would not allow a "one-strike" priest to return to ministry even after treatment and even if his new parish/institution were informed of his past.

What's on the table: The draft Charter calls for zero tolerance for future offenders and a two-strikes-you're-out policy for past offenders (with discretion based on effectiveness of treatment). Offending priests will be laicized (defrocked) and forbidden to celebrate the sacraments and perform other ministerial duties.
History: In the past, multiple offenders were transferred to other parishes within dioceses--and sometimes around the country and the world. Priests who had finished treatment and were "cured" were also moved around and continued to have access to young people.
Pros: Would send a message to priests--and the public--that there's no room in the priesthood for any kind of abuse.
Cons: A diverse collection of liberal and conservative Catholic groups think minor offenses should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some argue that a zero-tolerance policy would deprive the church of priests who have truly reformed and would not allow for Christian mercy in less serious cases.
What to watch for: Will the bishops make distinctions involving the age of the victims and the severity of the behavior? For example, should inappropriate sexual remarks made to a 16-year-old be treated the same way as the molestation of a 10-year-old? Also: What should be done with abusive priests who cannot return to ministry? Send them to a monastery, as Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has suggested? Or something else?

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