U.S bishops downplay
differences with Rome
over sex abuse policy

Bishop DiLorenzo believes his policy
of "zero tolerance" will not be affected

Staff and news service reports

American bishops insisted yesterday that their get-tough policy on sexual abusers in the priesthood was still fully workable, despite the Vatican's demand that the plan be revamped and angry claims from victims that the church had failed them again.

The U.S. prelates hastened to downplay their differences with the Holy See over the policy they approved in June to stem the sex abuse crisis that has battered the Roman Catholic Church in America. Many said they would carry out the measures anyway.

But the Vatican said yesterday it could not give the plan its approval without significant changes. Reaching agreement may prove difficult.

Honolulu Catholic Bishop Francis DiLorenzo doesn't expect the Vatican decision to require a change in his "zero tolerance" policy for priests who have abused children.

"He believes the Vatican and the U.S. bishops are on the same page here," said diocesan spokesman Patrick Downes.

"To report it as being rejected was wildly inaccurate, he doesn't see that at all. There are certain things that the Vatican felt had to be clarified."

In August, DiLorenzo removed a local priest from his Maui parish because of two sexual abuse complaints dating back 20 years.

Soon after he arrived here in 1993, the bishop removed four priests involved in cases that preceded his appointment.

DiLorenzo will attend the November meeting of the U.S. Commission of Catholic Bishops.

Downes said he expects the mixed commission created yesterday, with four American bishops and four Vatican appointees, "will hash it out and fix what needs to be fixed and have it done in time for the meeting."

"The Vatican is very supportive of the bishops' efforts and realizes how serious a task the U.S. bishops had before them. But the Vatican represents the worldwide church so there are certain things it felt had to be clarified as far as universal law," Downes said.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Vatican was troubled by aspects of the U.S. church plan to permanently oust all known abusers from their ministries and even from the priesthood.

That goes right to the crux of the policy, as does the definition of sexual abuse, which is another trouble spot.

To resolve matters, a special "mixed commission" with four U.S. bishops and representatives from four Vatican offices is being established. Gregory hopes the group will finish its work by the time all U.S. bishops assemble for a meeting Nov. 11.

"We're dealing with basically a sound document that needs modification rather than recasting," Gregory said at a news conference in Rome, where he has been conferring with Vatican officials all week.

While generally supporting the U.S. bishops' efforts to stamp out clergy abuse of minors, the Vatican said the policy contained provisions that were "difficult to reconcile" with church law, were difficult to interpret and left open procedural questions that needed to be resolved.

"For these reasons it has been judged appropriate that before the 'recognitio' (Vatican approval) can be granted, a further reflection on and revision of the 'Norms' and the 'Charter' are necessary," said the response, signed by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation of Bishops.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C. said he intends to keep implementing the policy.

"We're in no way pulling back from what we were doing" to rid the clergy of abusers in his archdiocese, he said, and he expects bishops across the nation will do likewise.

Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J. said the response "clearly states the Vatican's support" for the steps the American bishops have taken so far. And Chicago's Cardinal Francis George said Rome merely wants "to talk to us about clarifying a few of the details. ... What we have is an acceptance with a few qualifications."

But Chicagoan Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the church's attempt at reform was a failure.

"Make no mistake about it: Rome's bureaucrats have rejected the weak measures bishops adopted in Dallas and our children are at risk as a result," she said, claiming that the Vatican had "gutted" the policy and "we're now back at square one."

The Rev. Kevin McKenna of Rochester, N.Y., an expert in church law who has sharply criticized the bishops' policy, was among many commentators who said the Vatican has reason to be concerned about the rights of accused priests.

For instance, the bishops' policy allows priests to be removed from their posts if a "credible" allegation is made against them.

Some have attacked such measures as destroying clergymen's careers without allowing them to defend themselves.

"Americans resonate with that," McKenna said.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --