Catholic Bishops Revise Child-Protection Charter

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting in Chicago, votes on changes to a 2002 charter for the protection of children. Jason DeRose of Chicago Public Radio says bishops reaffirmed their commitment to a zero-tolerance stance on sex abuse. But they eased a requirement that the Vatican be automatically informed of complaints of abuse.

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The US Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops made some changes to its policy on clergy sex abuse today. The bishops are meeting in Chicago. They first established the policy in 2002 amid widespread allegations of abuse by priests and cover-ups by their dioceses. NPR's Jason DeRose reports from Chicago.

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JASON DeROSE reporting:

After morning prayer, the bishops passed changes that clarify the role of the laity in monitoring sex abuse allegations. They also funded a study on the causes and contexts of sex abuse and altered some language about when a bishop must report an allegation of abuse to the Vatican. Among those who helped revise the plan was St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Harry Flynn. He says the bishops made no substantial change to their zero-tolerance policy.

Archbishop HARRY FLYNN (St. Paul-Minneapolis): The conclusion of the document renews the pledges made in the original document.

DeROSE: However, reporting of allegations to Rome was changed from mandatory to optional in cases more than 10 years old. In those instances, bishops need only ask the Vatican for an internal church trial if an accuser is willing to testify and, according to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, if the accused is able to stand trial.

Cardinal FRANCIS GEORGE (Chicago): I think the intent of the law and everything else around it says that he should unless there are some extraordinarily important reasons; the man is dying of cancer, he has six months to live, something like that. You don't subject him to that.

DeROSE: Despite the bishops' reaffirmation of their commitment to ending clergy sex abuse, a number of protesters lined the streets outside the hotel where the church leaders are meeting. Among them, Philadelphia resident Gail Pullhouse(ph) with the group Voice of the Faithful. While she's glad the bishops are willing to hold priests accountable, she wishes they'd hold themselves accountable, as well.

Ms. GAIL PULLHOUSE (Voice of the Faithful): Well, who got accused and tried in the Enron scandal? It wasn't the middle management so much as it was the top management. And if they're going to run a hierarchical church, then the buck has to stop someplace and it stops with the bishops.

DeROSE: Pullhouse says bishops guilty of moving abusive priests around should resign.

In addition to dealing with sex abuse, the bishops addressed a number of other agenda items, including removing a short phrase from the Mass and approving a document on recruiting and training new priests. Earlier drafts of the program for priestly formation called for a period of celibacy prior to men entering seminary, as well as a refinement of the policy on gay seminarians. But the document passed without that language. However, that does not mean, says Cardinal Francis George, a sexual free-for-all prior to entering a Catholic seminary.

Cardinal GEORGE: Anyone who has been part of a gay subculture or who had lived promiscuously as a heterosexual would not be admitted no matter how many years in his background that might have occurred.

DeROSE: In the end, the final draft bishops approved omitted the language on celibacy and homosexuality only because they're awaiting a forthcoming Vatican document dealing with gay priests. Jason DeRose, NPR News, Chicago.

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