[ OUR OPINION ]
Bishops could undermine
Catholic bishops will meet in Texas this week to decide on a new policy of dealing with sexual abuse by priests.
ROMAN Catholic bishops will congregate in Dallas this week to approve procedures to deal with sexual abuses by the clergy, but the policy being considered could be stronger. "Zero tolerance" favored by Hawaii Bishop Francis DiLorenzo would be preferable, helping the church to get past five months of accusations and scandalous revelations.
A committee of eight bishops, four priests and two lay people proposed a mandatory set of procedures that would require American bishops to remove any priest who abuses a minor in the future. The committee called for Pope John Paul II to defrock any priest who abuses a child in the future, has committed more than one abusive act or has been diagnosed a pedophile. However, those who have committed a single abuse in the past would be required only to go before a review board.
The review board would consist primarily of lay people, including at least one expert in child sexual abuse and at least one priest. That would be an improvement from the makeup of a panel created 10 years ago by the Honolulu diocese to address accusations of sexual misconduct -- two lawyers, two psychologists and three priests.
DiLorenzo has removed four priests from the public ministry because of sexual misconduct that occurred before 1993, when he took office, says diocese spokesman Patrick Downes. Last month, DiLorenzo put a Lahaina pastor on administrative leave because of accusations of misconduct stemming from an incident 20 years ago.
"The bishop's policy is pretty much zero tolerance," says Downes. Unfortunately, if two-thirds of the American bishops meeting in Dallas pass the committee's proposal and it is approved by the Vatican, it would become mandatory, undermining the stronger policy in Hawaii.
While removal from the public ministry is less drastic than the committee's proposal to oust abusers from the priesthood entirely, it would be more effective. Defrocking of a priest, or laicization, can be done only by the pope. If the action is contested by the priest, the process can take years to complete. While removal from the public ministry is a lesser sanction, it can be done more promptly.
To its credit, the committee also proposed that the bishops report any new allegations of sexual abuse of minors to law-enforcement authorities and cooperate with authorities in investigations of old allegations. However, the committee failed to include sanctions against bishops who have transferred priests from one parish to another after learning of cases of sexual abuse, without informing the public or notifying authorities.
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