Zero-Tolerance Policy Still Basically Intact, Say 2 U.S. Bishops

Revised Proposal on Clergy Abuse Builds on Dallas Norms, They Contend

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WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 7, 2002 ( The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference contradicted widespread media reports alleging that the Holy See had rejected the policy suggested by the American bishops last June.

“Contrary to many news reports,” Bishop Wilton Gregory said in a statement, “the Holy See did not reject or even ‘soften’ this work. In fact, it [remains] the foundation for what will become particular law in the United States.”

In a letter dated Oct. 14 to Bishop Gregory, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, said the norms approved in Dallas, Texas, last June “can be the source of confusion and ambiguity.”

Yet, Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, one of the four American bishops who participated in discussions of the proposed policy in Rome, agreed the revised proposal — the product of a mixed U.S.-Vatican commission — is not a retreat from the zero-tolerance position which came out of Dallas.

“No one remains in ministry who is a threat to children and young people,” Bishop Lori said during a press conference Nov. 2.

Bishop Gregory summarized the effects of the law as follows: “This particular law will provide every diocese in the country with standards in canon law for protecting children and young people, reaching out to victims, assessing allegations against clergy, with the benefit of the advice of competent lay persons, and for keeping from ministry anyone who would harm children.”

The updated policy calls for tribunals to hear the cases of accused priests and mandates that guilty clerics — including those who committed offenses years ago — be removed from Church work.

“Anyone who has committed even a single act of sexual abuse of children is permanently banned from ministry,” Bishop Lori said.

Responding to criticisms from some quarters that the new policy would curtail the involvement of lay people in the disciplinary process, Bishop Lori said that lay sexual-abuse review boards would still participate in preliminary investigations of allegations of sexual abuse in an advisory capacity.

Furthermore, he said that the Church tribunals which in most instances would wield the ultimate decision-making power are made up of judges — usually priests, canon lawyers and assessors — who may or may not be lay people.

Bishop Lori characterized the revisions to the Dallas policy as a response to concerns from the Holy See about the lack of clear juridical procedure for handling allegations of sexual abuse by a priest.

Saying that the charter approved in Dallas had been drafted “rather hastily,” Bishop Lori continued: “If you’re going to go forward and deal with this, it’s better to have clarity. And I think we now have a much greater degree of clarity. The zero-tolerance policy very much survives.”

The revised norms will be presented to the U.S. bishops at their meeting next week.

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