Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 29, 2002
Vatican summit opts for 'zero tolerance'
By Catholic News Service
As they wrapped up a special twoday summit with top Vatican officials, U.S. Church leaders outlined a national policy to deal with priest-offenders and a special process for dismissing them from the priesthood.
The proposals were described in a statement from the April 23-24 meeting, which brought together 12 U.S. cardinals and heads of eight Vatican departments.
The Vatican has not yet approved the proposals made by U.S. Church leaders, because they have yet to be definitively formulated. That will come when U.S. bishops meet in June, Church leaders said.
The specific proposals presented to Vatican officials included:
A day of prayer and penance throughout the United States.
- A set of "national standards" to deal with the sexual abuse of minors by priests.
- A "special process for dismissal from the clerical state of a priest who has become notorious and is guilty of the serial, predatory, sexual abuse of minors."
- A similar process for cases that are "not notorious" but where the bishop considers the priest a "threat for the protection of children and young people," in order to avoid grave scandal.
- An apostolic visitation of seminaries and religious houses of formation.
A joint communique said all the participants in the meeting reaffirmed the value of priestly celibacy, and said a link between celibacy and pedophilia cannot be scientifically maintained.
In a separate message, the Church leaders expressed their deep gratitude to priests of the United States and pledged to support them in every way "through these troubled times."
The communique also said the Church needs to convey to victims of sexual abuse a deep sense of solidarity and provide them with assistance in "recovering faith" and receiving pastoral care.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said at a closing press conference there is a "growing consensus" among U.S. Catholics and the bishops that a priest who has sexually abused a child cannot be reassigned to ministry. "It is too great a risk."
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington quoted from Pope John Paul's opening talk the comment that there is "no room in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young."
"Looking to the future, I would say it is pretty clear the Holy Father is calling for zero tolerance. . . . From here on in, there is no place in the priesthood for someone who would do such a thing," he said.