May 15, 2005

US bishops ask Vatican to retain abuse rules

Boston Globe

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff | May 15, 2005

A key group of US bishops is recommending that the Roman Catholic church retain its policy of removing from ministry all sexually abusive priests, despite concern from critics that the policy is too harsh.

The policy, approved by the bishops in the spring of 2002 and adjusted later that year when the Vatican demanded changes to protect priests' rights, requires that any priest who had committed even a single act of abuse, no matter how long ago, be barred from saying Mass publicly, from administering the sacraments, from wearing clerical garb, or from presenting himself publicly as a priest. The priest is then asked to lead a life of ''prayer and penance."

The policy was approved overwhelmingly while the church was under intense public pressure in the midst of the sexual abuse crisis. Some bishops and priests have criticized the policy as inflexible and as contrary to Christian teaching about the possibility of forgiveness and redemption.

Most notably, Cardinal Avery Dulles, a member of the faculty at Fordham University and the most prominent American Catholic theologian, wrote last year in America magazine, the Jesuit weekly: ''There is no reason to think that the protection of young people requires the removal from the ministry of elderly or mature priests who may have committed an offense in their youth but have performed many decades of exemplary service. Such action seems to reflect an attitude of vindictiveness to which the church should not yield."

But there now appears to be little appetite in the United States and in Rome to revisit the zero-tolerance policy, which has led to the removal of hundreds of priests. The bishops conference said last year that 700 priests and deacons had been ministry from 2002 to 2004.

Posted by kshaw at May 15, 2005 08:12 AM