The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops said Friday they will spend the next nine months deciding whether to make any changes in the policy they enacted at the height of the clergy sex abuse crisis that includes permanently barring guilty priests from church work.
The 2002 policy required dioceses to put safeguards in place against abuse and hire victim assistance coordinators. It outlined the process bishops should follow in investigating molestation claims.
But the centerpiece of the plan was a pledge that any priest who molested a minor would never again be allowed to serve in ministry. Victims demanded that the policy be adopted, because some bishops had previously moved abusive clergy among churches without telling parishioners, leaving children vulnerable.
Many priests and others in the church protested this provision, however, which was dubbed “zero tolerance,” saying it ignored research that found that some molesters could be rehabilitated. They said the policy violates Catholic teaching on forgiveness.
Archbishop Harry Flynn, who will oversee the review as head of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sex Abuse, wrote recently that a statistical study the bishops commissioned on five decades of clergy sex abuse indicated “zero tolerance” was necessary.
That study, released in February, found that even in cases with a single victim, abuse often occurred over long periods of time, even years. The study found 4,392 priests were accused of molesting more than 10,000 minors from 1950 to 2002.
Writing in the Oct. 18 edition of America, a Jesuit magazine, Flynn noted that the study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice showed the problem was “more prevalent than we thought.”
“The reassignment of even one priest who then harms another child is utterly unacceptable,” he wrote.