The Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops yesterday named an eight-member commission to revise the American church's zero-tolerance policy toward sexual abuse by priests, which the Vatican refused last week to approve without changes.
In naming the commission with unusual speed, church officials signaled their desire to avoid an extended period of confusion over the rules for disciplining priests. If the commission finishes its work in time, the U.S. bishops could adopt the changes at a previously scheduled mid-November meeting in Washington.
The American members of the commission are Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, Archbishop William J. Levada of San Francisco, Bishop Thomas G. Doran of Rockford, Ill., and Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn. All four have extensive experience with the sexual abuse issue. Doran, who has served on the church's highest court, is also an expert on canon law.
The Vatican representatives are Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who heads the Congregation for Clergy; Monsignor Julian Herranz, head of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Monsignor Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Monsignor Francesco Monterisi, secretary of the Congregation for Bishops.
At least two of the Vatican delegates have expressed reservations about the policy enacted by the U.S. bishops in June, which calls for the permanent removal from ministry of any priest who has ever sexually abused a minor.
Castrillon voiced concern that bishops would lose their rapport with priests if they suspended clergymen based only on an accusation, a Vatican official said.
Herranz, whose department interprets church law, said he worried that the Americans were abridging the church's due process protections.
But church leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have sought to avoid the appearance of a conflict. "We are not starting from scratch," said one Vatican official. "Language needs revision. Universal church law has to be respected."
Williams reported from Rome.