- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2002

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Leaders of Roman Catholic religious orders yesterday approved details of their plan to keep sexually abusive clergy away from children but in the priesthood, creating review boards to monitor how their communities handle offenders.
The Conference of Major Superiors of Men, an association of heads of groups such as Benedictines and Jesuits, also acknowledged their members had sometimes failed to discipline errant clergy sufficiently in the past.
"We are deeply sorry for that and publicly apologize for whenever and however we have failed victims or families," they said in the document, which won overwhelming approval by the leaders. "These religious priests or brothers who have molested children or adolescents have broken the bonds of trust invested in them. We feel this hurt deeply."
The vote came at the conclusion of the organization's annual meeting, where the religious orders' leaders discussed how the abuse policy American bishops approved two months ago in Dallas could be adapted for their religious communities.
About 15,000 of the 46,000 U.S. priests belong to the orders.
In their document yesterday, the religious orders pledged the men would undergo treatment and remain under close watch. They also added language, suggested during the floor debate, that anyone who violated restrictions set by their orders could be dismissed.
The plan drew immediate criticism from victim advocates. They noted the policy was not mandatory, since the conference gave the orders too much freedom in disciplining guilty priests.
"This is not a new chapter for religious orders in this crisis. This is the same story we've heard before," said Mark Serrano, a national board member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
The Rev. Ted Keating, a Marist and the conference executive director, said he could not imagine any order failing to participate, considering the public outrage about abuse in the church.
Like the bishops, religious communities will bar abusers from any positions that require face-to-face contact with parishioners.
But the bishops decided to remove offenders from all church work and, in some cases, from the priesthood entirely.
The orders believe that approach is too harsh. Priests take vows of poverty when they join religious communities, and the communities say they function as families. They believed that their approach should be guided by the Christian belief in redemption for sinners.
"Just as a family does not abandon a member convicted of serious crimes, we cannot turn our backs on our brother," the statement read.
The Rev. Canice Connors, the conference president, said in his opening address earlier in the week that he thought the bishops were "paralyzed in remorse" when they developed their policy and he accused them of scapegoating errant clergy.

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