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Ban on abusive clergy extended

Sat., June 18, 2005

CHICAGO – The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops agreed Friday to a five-year extension on their unprecedented policy of permanently barring sexually abusive clergy from church work.

The overwhelming vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops means the American church will stick with main points of a policy adopted in 2002 at the height of crisis brought on by molesters in the priesthood. The Vatican is expected to approve.

The bishops’ committee overseeing a review mandated by the original policy spent months soliciting comment from church leaders. The panel concluded that “many, perhaps a majority,” of bishops hope to someday ease the permanent ban on offenders. Some prelates believe it violates Catholic teaching on redemption – that any sinner can be healed – and treats every case equally no matter the severity of the offense.

However, the bishops’ committee said that church leaders agreed now was not the time to soften the policy.

Chicago Cardinal Francis George, a leader in reviewing the plan with Vatican officials, said he was aware it created tensions between bishops and priests. He said the penalty was necessary to restore trust.

Victims’ groups say the prelates cannot be trusted to enforce their own plan and called it inadequate. But George said anyone who considers the policy weak “should talk to the priests who have been affected by this.”

The scandal was sparked by revelations that many bishops moved guilty priests among parish assignments without warning parents or police.

The policy, known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, not only dictates how bishops should investigate abuse claims, but also outlines what steps dioceses should take to help victims and protect children. A companion document makes the discipline plan for guilty priests church law for the United States.

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