DALLAS, June 14 — Trying to ease the clerical sex abuse crisis pounding the church, America’s Roman Catholic bishops were poised Friday to adopt a tough new national policy that would expel any cleric who ever molested a child.
Following a closed-door meeting Thursday, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago emerged from discussions with fellow church leaders saying the idea of allowing priests who abused one child in the past to remain in parish work was off the table.
“It gets rid of the provision that I was hoping they would get rid of,” he said. “That language is unacceptable. That sounds as if you can do it once and no one would pay attention to you.” The final vote is planned for later Friday.
The U.S. bishops, moving at warp speed for a church that often debates issues for years, are trying to leave a historic meeting on sex abuse with a new national policy for handling molestation claims that restores their damaged credibility. They got to work Thursday after begging victims’ forgiveness and hearing their anguished stories.
They met for several hours behind closed doors and ended the session at about 10 p.m. Bishop John McRaith, 67, of the Owensboro, Ky., diocese fainted during the session and was taken to St. Paul University Hospital, where a spokeswoman said the bishop requested that no information be released on his condition.
Some 250 accused priests have resigned or been dismissed from their duties since the crisis began in January. Four bishops also have stepped down.
Archbishop Harry Flynn, head of the committee drafting the new abuse policy, said his panel was weighing two options to present bishops when they vote on the plan Friday.
They are zero tolerance — ousting any priest found guilty of abuse — or something that stops just short of that. George said all abusers would be kept out of parishes, where they might have contact with children, though past one-time abusers might be able to remain priests.
In the initial policy draft, released last week, a priest who abused one minor in the past could be reassigned to a church — though only if he underwent counseling, agreed to supervision and publicly disclosed his misconduct.
Negotiations began after a dramatic start to the meeting, in which the bishops bluntly acknowledged that their mistakes helped cause the crisis. They then yielded the floor to victims who described how pain permeated their lives.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the conference, gave a remarkably direct opening address, calling the crisis “perhaps the gravest we have faced.”
He also admitted “we did not go far enough to ensure that every child and minor was safe from sexual abuse. Rightfully, the faithful are questioning why we failed to take the necessary steps.”
He apologized to church members for the test of their faith that the scandal has created.
“To each of you, and in the name of all the bishops, I offer a profound apology for the hurt and embarrassment that you have suffered,” he told the nearly 300 U.S. bishops in attendance.
::throws hands up in the air, begins spasmodically shaking in that distinct OH MY GOD DO BELIEVE WHAT I'M HEARING? type of stance::
I think I need to write my own response to this story and submit it to The Onion. I even have a working title. Check this out:
Catholic Leaders Begin Strange Employment Of Base Logic, "Holy Fucking Shit!" Says The Vatican.