Oct. 25--Four American bishops, two of them from Illinois, will team up in Rome next week with four Vatican-based bishops to retool the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' 4-month-old sex abuse policy.

Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory, in his elected role as conference president, named the four Americans with advice from Vatican officials. Of the four, who were announced Wednesday, one helped write the policy, and three publicly questioned it. The conference passed the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and a legislative document to enforce it in June in Dallas.

The commission is expected to rework many points in the policy, which the Vatican took issue with in its comment last week.

Revisions are expected to:

  • Narrow the definition of sexual abuse.
  • Eliminate the requirement that a bishop refer all allegations against priests to civil authorities. Instead, it would encourage alleged victims themselves to go to authorities directly.
  • Grant priests the right to a hearing about their alleged offenses. If found guilty, provide the right to appeal.
  • Limit the number of years an abused person can bring forward a complaint.
  • Explain the national lay review board's role with bishops.
  • The commission hopes to pull together a revised document that can be discussed at the bishops' regularly scheduled fall meeting, which begins Nov. 10 in Washington. "I think, the hope is that they would finish the work in time to give a report at the November meeting," said Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, conference spokesman. "One possibility is that the bishops would vote on any revisions and send them to Rome" for a Vatican OK.

    Neither Gregory, nor Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, of Minneapolis, who chairs the bishops' ad hoc committee on sexual abuse, is expected to attend the meeting in Rome. In the past when bishops conferences have passed documents and the Vatican has sent them back for reworking, mostly cardinals have been put on the rewrite commissions.

    Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, one of the commissioners, says the bishops' priority is still protecting children. "The shared goal of the Holy See and the U.S. bishops remains the safety of every minor child," he said in a statement Wednesday. "The means to achieve this goal remains the removal of priests who are guilty of sexual misconduct with minors."

    Another commissioner, San Francisco Archbishop William J. Levada, stressed that the work the commission has been asked to do "is neither a rejection of the charter nor a rejection of its goals." "The commission represents an important middle ground where difficulties, primarily of a procedural nature, can be can be addressed," Levada said in a statement.

    One of the four, Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., a theologian, helped write the first draft of the charter, which was passed 239-13. Bishop Thomas Doran, 66, of Rockford, Ill., the only canon lawyer among the four, leaves for Rome today. At the June convention in Dallas, Doran spoke from the floor and told the other bishops that the charter language requiring bishops to report all allegations of priestly abuse of minors directly to the civil authorities would force bishops to "rat on" their priests. "If any allegation means that any claim by someone who doesn't like a priest must be reported to civil authorities, we can do that," Doran said in Dallas, "but we are fools."

    Doran sized up the meeting Wednesday as one between friends, not adversaries. The Rockford bishop got his doctorate in canon - church - law at the Gregorian University in Rome and for eight years, beginning in 1986, worked in Rome as a canon lawyer in the church courts.

    Levada has been a reluctant follower of the charter's call for immediate removal from public ministry of all priests with credible charges against them. In one case, it took him from a spring face- to-face meeting with an alleged victim of a parish priest until mid- August to remove the priest.

    In April in St. Louis and in Rome, George said that bishops should be a ble to allow elderly priests who had abused minors, especially 17-year-olds, decades ago and never committed subsequent acts of sexual misconduct, to remain in the priesthood. Unfair removal from the priesthood rather than just from public ministry is the great objection of the Vatican, a canon lawyer said.

    Some victims were disappointed in the choice of the commission members. "Not one of them has distinguished themselves as trail blazers or pioneers on this issue, but we are more worried about the Vatican officials," said David Clohessy, national spokesman for the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. He would have been less concerned if Cardinal James Stafford, or another American-born Vatican official, was on the mixed commission, he said. "An American would understand how critical compliance with civil law is in this country, and America's more rigorous laws to protect kids."

    Commission members

    Next week in Rome, these eight men will begin work on revising the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sexual abuse policies. The Americans, appointed by Bishop Wilton Gregory, are:

  • Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago.
  • Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco.
  • Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill.
  • Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn.
  • Leaders of four key Vatican departments, which need to approve any major changes to canon (church) law - are:

  • Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, head of the Congregation for Clergy.
  • Archbishop Julian Herranz, president of the Council for Legislative Texts.
  • Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
  • Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, secretary of the Congregation for Bishops.
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