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Spotlight Report

US leaders expect Vatican approval

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 6/14/2002

DALLAS - Bishops drafting a new national policy on clergy sexual abuse say they expect the Vatican to approve their proposal so it will become binding on all US dioceses.

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Church law requires that the Vatican approve any mandatory national policy, and this policy will be no exception. But, despite some objections from Vatican officials in recent weeks, top US church leaders say they are confident that the Vatican will sign off on whatever they approve here.

''I am confident they will work with us,'' said Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Gregory dismissed the objections of some Vatican officials to proposed mandatory reporting and zero-tolerance provisions of the policy, saying he relies instead on the words of the Pope John Paul II, who said on April 23 that ''there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young.''

''I put more confidence in the Holy Father than all the other canonical opinions,'' Gregory said.

Yesterday, the pope sent Gregory a note of encouragement, saying, ''I pray that the measures you devise will be as effective as possible, in continuity with the church's rich spiritual tradition and discipline and in respect for the principles of truth, justice and equity which enlighten and govern her life as a community of faith.''

Bishops helping to draft the policy said they expect that it could take until the end of the year for the Vatican to approve it.

''I think they recognize that it needs to be done pretty quickly,'' said Dallas Coadjutor Bishop Joseph A. Galante. ''In a church that measures time in thousands of years, I think it'll be done far more quickly than usual because they recognize very much the urgency.''

But bishops can begin to implement much of the policy voluntarily.

Many dioceses have already implemented many of the proposals, such as requiring church employees to report allegations of abuse to state authorities, and removing from ministry all priests who have sexually abused minors. In Boston, for example, Cardinal Bernard F. Law announced his zero-tolerance policy earlier this year, which says that any priest who is credibly accused of abusing any child is removed from his ministry.

Also, in Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has implemented a policy that amounts to a one-strike-and-you're-out rule.

''This has got to be dealt with once and for all,'' Mahony said.

Among the provisions that are likely to get the most attention from the Vatican is a proposal, still being drafted, to expedite the process for laicizing, or defrocking, priests. The US bishops are proposing to ask the pope to laicize every priest who abuses a minor.

''It's very difficult to laicize a priest right now,'' said Rev. Thomas J. Reese, editor of America magazine, the Jesuit weekly. ''It's a very complicated and time-consuming process. The bishops want to have a much more expedited procedure and in order to do that the Vatican has to come along. And the Vatican's concerned about issues like due process. Here the Vatican sounds like the ACLU: respect the rights of the accused, and fair trial, and right of appeal and all these due process questions. They're going to have to work out those details and at the same time not have this procedure take years and years.''

This story ran on page A41 of the Boston Globe on 6/14/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing LLC.


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