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US bishops re-thinking 'zero tolerance' policy on abuse?

Catholic World News - February 16, 2011

The US bishops may eventually reconsider their provisions of the Dallas Charter, which prescribe a "zero tolerance" policy for priests who commit sexual abuse, reports John Allen.

Although there is no movement today to change the Dallas Charter, Allen finds a quiet undercurrent of thought recommending change.

Backlash against the get-tough approach has long circulated among some priests who say they’ve been thrown under the bus and some clinical experts who worry that cutting predators loose puts the community at risk. Increasingly, it’s also finding traction among Catholics who believe that the church’s doctrine, especially its theology of the priesthood, and its moral standing are being sacrificed upon the altar of short-term PR and legal relief.

The argument for a change in the "zero-tolerance" policy has some obvious strengths. Many American priests, seeing the harsh treatment of colleagues who insist they are innocent, fear that they too could be suspended on the basis of a false accusation; the results are dangerous for clerical morale. And while a diocese may wash its hands of a guilty priest after he is dismissed from the clerical state, he remains at large and may still be a threat to children. A revised policy that preserves the due-process rights of accused priests, and avoids the temptation to jump at a quick-fix solution, would be preferable.

However, if the US bishops are still accepting advice from Msgr. Stephen Rossetti-- who, years ago, warned against treating predatory priests as "scapegoats"-- the prospects for an improved policy are not good.

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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Feb. 17, 2011 10:45 AM ET USA

    Well, Auntie Agnes' policy on suspected child abuse is now to notify the law first and the Bishop second. End of story.

  • Posted by: 4unborn8281 - Feb. 17, 2011 7:27 AM ET USA

    What is needed is for Pope Benedict to require that every credible claim of sexual abuse be reported to outside authorities.

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