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A Closer Look at What Bishops Hath Wrought

June 22, 2002

Last week, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved their first national policy to oust all priests from public ministry who molest minors.

In cases where a priest is not defrocked for abuse, he will be subject to harsh restrictions that will virtually ban him from face-to-face contact with parishioners. He will not be permitted to wear clerical garb, celebrate Mass or publicly present himself as a priest.

Here is an excerpted version of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, approved June 14 on a 239-13 vote of the nation's bishops:

*

Preamble

The church in the United States is experiencing a crisis without precedent in our times. The sexual abuse of children and young people by some priests and bishops, and the ways in which we bishops addressed these crimes and sins, have caused enormous pain, anger and confusion. Innocent victims and their families have suffered terribly.

In the past, secrecy has created an atmosphere that has inhibited the healing process and, in some cases, enabled sexually abusive behavior to be repeated. As bishops, we acknowledge our mistakes and our role in that suffering, and we apologize and take responsibility for too often failing victims and our people in the past.

We also take responsibility for dealing with this problem strongly, consistently and effectively in the future. From the depths of our hearts, we bishops express great sorrow and profound regret for what the Catholic people are enduring.

To Promote Healing and Reconciliation With Victims/Survivors of Sexual Abuse of Minors

ARTICLE 1:

Dioceses will reach out to victims/survivors and their families and demonstrate a sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being. The first obligation of the church with regard to the victims is for healing and reconciliation. Where such outreach is not already in place and operative, each diocese is to develop an outreach to every person who has been the victim of sexual abuse as a minor by anyone acting in the name of the church, whether the abuse was recent or occurred many years in the past.

ARTICLE 2:

Dioceses will have mechanisms in place to respond promptly to any allegation where there is reason to believe that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred. Dioceses will have a competent assistance coordinator to aid in the immediate pastoral care of persons who claim to have been sexually abused as minors by clergy or other church personnel.

Dioceses will also have a review board, the majority of whose members will be laypersons not in the employ of the diocese. This board will assist the diocesan bishop in assessing allegations and fitness for ministry, and will regularly review diocesan policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse of minors.

ARTICLE 3:

Dioceses will not enter into confidentiality agreements except for grave and substantial reasons brought forward by the victim/survivor and noted in the text of the agreement.

To Guarantee an Effective Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors

ARTICLE 4:

Dioceses will report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities. They will cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question.

Dioceses will cooperate with public authorities about reporting in cases when the person is no longer a minor. In every instance, dioceses will advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and will support this right.

ARTICLE 5:

We repeat the words of our Holy Father in his "Address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers": "There is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young." When the preliminary investigation of a complaint against a priest or deacon so indicates, the diocesan bishop will relieve the alleged offender promptly of his ministerial duties.

The alleged offender will be referred for appropriate medical and psychological evaluation, so long as this does not interfere with the investigation by civil authorities. When the accusation has proved to be unfounded, every step possible will be taken to restore the good name of the priest or deacon.

Where sexual abuse by a priest or a deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate investigation in accord with canon law, the following will pertain:

* Diocesan policy will provide that for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor--past, present or future--the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry. In keeping with the stated purpose of this charter, an offending priest or deacon will be offered professional assistance for his own healing and well-being as well as for the purpose of prevention.

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