U.S. policy on priest abuse sought
By Rachel Zoll
Victim advocates urged U.S. bishops yesterday to enact tough local policies for disciplining sexually abusive priests even if the Vatican guts the strictest parts of the prelates' national plan during meetings in Rome.
Leaders of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said they had little expectation that the 4-month-old policy would survive talks between the American Roman Catholic bishops and the Holy See.
Instead, the Survivors Network said it would lobby U.S. bishops to enact reforms that do not require Vatican approval, such as supporting victim efforts to extend the civil statute of limitations for abuse.
"We are extremely concerned about what will emerge from the talks in Rome," said Mark Serrano, a SNAP national board member.
The Vatican last week demanded U.S. bishops revise their new sex-abuse policy, then created a joint American-Holy See commission to work out the changes.
Officials in Rome were concerned about what Pope John Paul II has called "summary trials" for accused priests, a prolonged statute of limitations and the use of lay review boards, among other things.
The American plan, adopted in June in response to an outcry over hundreds of abuse claims revealed this year, calls for removing a priest from his ministry, and in some instances from the priesthood itself, after a "credible" allegation has been made against him.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has released no details of the meeting of the joint commission. However, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, one of the American appointees to the panel, was scheduled to leave for Rome tomorrow afternoon, said his spokesman, Jim Dwyer.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops' conference, has said he hoped the commission would finish its work in time for the next national meeting of American prelates, starting Nov. 11 in Washington.
The Survivors Network has asked to meet with the bishops representing the United States in the talks, but the advocacy group said it has been rebuffed so far. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops' conference, declined to comment.
SNAP wants American church leaders to form a committee that would monitor guilty priests for life and report their whereabouts to civil authorities, implement abuse-prevention programs in each diocese and publicize the parish assignment history of every molester priest.