Vatican City Rejected US Catholic Church”s New Sex Abuse Policy

VATICAN CITY (Oct. 17) – The Vatican has rejected some elements of the U.S. Catholic Church’s new sex abuse policy and cautioned the American bishops from going ahead with them, Church sources familiar with the response said Thursday.

In particular, the Vatican expressed concern over elements of the proposed policy that would violate the individual rights of accused clerics now protected under universal church law, the sources said.

The response will be made public Friday, a day after Bishop Wilton Gregory, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and other American prelates met with Pope John Paul II to discuss the scandal that has rocked the American Church.

All along, Vatican officials and U.S. church lawyers have raised objections to the proposals, arguing that they may violate the due process rights of priests.

However, Vatican officials and top U.S. churchmen had said they expected the Vatican would go along with them anyway, on a trial basis.

The sources stressed that the entire plan has not been rejected, and that it could be a work in progress to satisfy the various objections.

Nevertheless, the Vatican is recommending the bishops be cautious in implementing the more controversial sections of the policy, the sources said.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not specify the various elements that the Vatican opposed. But they made it clear they dealt with provisions regarding the rights of priests under universal church law.

American bishops adopted the policy in June after a wave of sex abuse allegations against priests and reports that their superiors tried to cover up wrongdoing by moving known offenders from parish to parish.

The bishops want Vatican approval so their policy has the full weight of Rome behind them. A full rejection would be an embarrassing blow to U.S. bishops who are struggling to restore credibility in the wake of the scandal.

The provisions in the new policy include requiring dioceses to remove guilty priests from church work, and, in some instances, from the priesthood itself.

It also removes a statute of limitations for abuse claims, saying a guilty priest will be relieved of his ministry for “even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor – past, present or future.”

Church lawyers have questioned whether the plan conflicts with canon law and the due process rights of accused clergy and whether the diocesan lay review boards mandated in the plan have too much authority.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press after talks with cardinals in Rome, said he expected the pope would accept the policy, and would grant the American Church a waiver to get around aspects of church law that may conflict with the new rules.

In what was seen as a possible sign of the Vatican’s willingness to back the U.S. bishops, the influential Italian Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica published an editorial Thursday stating the U.S. proposals without criticism and noting that the pope has said there is no room in the priesthood for clerics who commit crimes against young people.

The magazine’s editorials are cleared by the Vatican. In the past, it has carried several articles suggesting that the U.S. policy violated the civil rights of priests and critical of the treatment of the scandal by the American media.

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