- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 16, 2002

DALLAS Catholic bishops headed home yesterday after the end of their landmark three-day meeting, most of them pleased they had authored a strong sexual-abuse policy but aware that much work lay ahead.
The 3,500-word document called "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" was so riddled with amendments and clarifications that its final form was unavailable to participants for hours after it had been passed Friday afternoon with an overwhelming majority.
A development that seemed to please proponents and critics alike was the creation of a national board headed by Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating to oversee bishops' compliance with the charter.
The policy was forced by the sex-abuse scandal that has confronted the nation's Catholic Church with its most severe crisis in recent times. Scores of victims have come forward with accusations of abuse at the hands of priests and indifference from church leaders. At least 250 priests have resigned or been suspended, and the scandal prompted an extraordinary summit between U.S. cardinals and the pope.
The big news from the meeting here was that hereafter any priest or cleric who sexually abuses a young person will be stripped of his ministry immediately.
Also, it was decided that there would be no punishment for those bishops and officials in the church hierarchy who admittedly broke both canon and secular law by covering up for known abusers in the past.
The conference which drew more than 750 members of the media, compared with 40 or 50 at previous such summer meetings had to deal with what leaders called "possibly the worst crisis in the church of our time."
The scandal moved scores of victims to come forth. Many of them met here privately with priests, and a handful even became part of the public sessions at the bishops' conclave.
Yet critics were disappointed by a segment of the charter that refused to completely remove from the church priests who committed sexual abuse. They would be removed from direct contact with parishioners and could not hold mass, but they would remain priests.
"If they are going to allow these men to still be priests, they can still abuse that position," said Barbara Blaine, founder and president of the Survivors Network of those Abused By Priests, or SNAP.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorialized yesterday:
"By allowing a pedophile to retain his priestly standing even if it's in a solitary monastery in the Alps and declining to more fully address the responsibility of bishops, the conference failed to come to grips with the heart of the scandal."
One of the conference's most respected members, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George had intended to recommend an addendum to the charter that dealt with what he termed "consequences" for those bishops who had been derelict in handling abuse cases. But he admitted later he felt such a measure could not be accepted here.
"In the discussions," he told reporters, "it became clear that [the eventual charter] is what we could support at this time."
Referring to those who advocated a zero-tolerance policy and charge the bishops did not go far enough toward demanding that priests who molest the young be completely removed from the church, he said:
"Zero tolerance? That's about as zero as you can get. He may never publicly present himself as a priest. He may never wear a collar. He may never have public ministry. What's missing there?"
Calling the scandal despicable, Mr. Keating said he would consider calling for the resignation of church leaders who fail to comply with the policy.
Asked about Cardinal Bernard Law, whose archdiocese in Boston ignited the furor within the church and whose followers have demanded his resignation in recent weeks, Mr. Keating said he had no plans to ask for the cardinal's resignation but added, "I haven't been very impressed with the way he's handled those awful cases."
This article is based in part on wire service reports


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