US bishops to debate handling of sex abuse


THE US: An acknowledgement of, and abject apologies for, the enormous pain caused by the Catholic Church's handling of sex abuse will be debated by US bishops next week.

They are also to discuss new guidelines which will see the wholesale laicisation of offending priests.

Their debate at a special meeting in Dallas will focus on a draft declaration released yesterday by a preparatory committee of eight bishops which goes further in acknowledging institutional failure than any declaration yet. And it proposes that bishops should automatically seek the laicisation by the Pope of any priest in future found guilty of a single case of abuse.

As for past offenders, the proposed policy calls for asking the Pope to laicise any priest who has been diagnosed as a paedophile (i.e., that the priest is sexually attracted to prepubescent children), or any priest who has sexually abused a minor more than once.

"We repeat the words of our Holy Father in his address to the cardinals of the United States . . . that 'there is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young'," the draft states.

"Our beloved church is experiencing a crisis without precedent in our times," the draft admits. "From the depths of our hearts, we express great sorrow and profound regret for what the Catholic people have had to endure. . .

"The sexual abuse of children and young people by some priests and bishops, and the ways in which these crimes and sins were too often dealt with by bishops, have caused enormous pain, anger and confusion. They have strained the bonds of trust that should unite us."

Although the statement does not meet all the requirements of victims groups, not least for the resignation of several of the implicated bishops, its demands for automatic reporting of allegations and collaboration with civil authorities, and the scope of laicisation sought, may well be too strong for the Vatican.

The draft urges a ban on confidentiality agreements in suits against the church, "except for grave and substantial reasons brought forward by the victim". And it urges dioceses to adopt far more transparent procedures in dealing with cases.

One of the recommendations also urges greater candour within the church apparatus, insisting on the full transmission of the records of a priest transferring from one diocese to another. That the bishops should need to make such a recommendation, apparent since the notorious Shanley case, is itself startling.

The draft proposes the establishment of a national Office for Child and Youth Protection to help dioceses implement programmes of child protection.