Bishops Vote to Bar Abusive Clergy from Public Duties

Policy Approved Instead of «Zero Tolerance» Proposal

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DALLAS, Texas, JUNE 14, 2002 ( U.S. Catholic bishops overwhelmingly adopted a policy that will forbid sexually abusive clergy from face-to-face contact with parishioners but not expel them from the priesthood.

The national policy, approved by a 239-13 vote today, would supersede the voluntary discipline guidelines the U.S. bishops´ conference has relied on for years. The policy still needs Vatican approval to become binding.

«From this day forward no one known to have sexually abused a child will work in the Catholic Church in the United States,» said Bishop Wilton Gregory, the conference president. He apologized for «our tragically slow response in recognizing the horror» of sexual abuse.

Under the plan, abusers — past and future — will technically remain priests but they will be prohibited from any public Church work, including celebrating Mass and serving in a Catholic soup kitchen.

Priests could still be laicized but the process would be up to the presiding bishop, acting on the advice of a panel comprised mainly of lay people.

The bishops´ action follows months of revelations of sex abuse scandals in which some 250 priests have quit or were suspended because of misconduct claims.

The bishops dropped the idea of a «zero tolerance» policy under which abusive priests would be automatically removed from the priesthood.

The Associated Press quoted Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia as saying the adopted policy reflected the need to show «Christ-like compassion» to priests.

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