All eyes on Dallas
Bishops will approve a national policy this week after debating the best
ways to act
By Tony Staley
U.S. Catholic bishops this week in Dallas will approve a tough new national policy that will reach out to victims of sexual abuse, seek to prevent future abuse and provide accountability.
The policy will include both a "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and "enabling legislation" -- or more precisely the required norms or laws, which will need Vatican approval to take effect.
The policy before the bishops is similar to recommendations submitted last month to Bp. Robert Banks by the diocesan Record Review Task Force.
Both call for reaching out to victims to help them heal. Both call for reporting all claims of abuse of a minor to civil authorities. Both would restrict or ban priestly ministry by convicted or confirmed sexual abusers of minors. Both call for background checks for all church workers who deal with children and tougher screening of seminarians. Both call for tougher notification policies when a priest accused of abuse seeks to move to a different diocese. Both call for a larger lay role in oversight of the policies.
There are some differences. The diocesan task force recommends that one-time offenders not be allowed to exercise priestly ministry. The proposal the U.S. bishops will consider would allow the possibility of a priest with a single instance of past abuse to continue serving -- though any priest guilty of even one episode of abuse in the future would be laicized. Expect a spirited debate from the bishops on whether previous one-time offenders should be removed from the ministry.
While the bishops sought to be thorough when writing the charter and norms, some critics have said they did not go far enough. The critics have a valid point, but given the urgency of passing the norms, it was wise to restrict their scope.
The bishops should now assign a committee that includes lay membership to develop further recommendations and policies for consideration at its fall meeting. Any additional changes deserve a great deal of prayer, study, thought and debate before they are voted on, rather than being hastily approved or rejected.
For now, our task must be to pray for guidance for our bishops and to pray for healing -- especially for the victims of abuse, but also for abusers and for our church.