After two days of meetings in Rome, a joint American-Vatican commission announced yesterday that it has agreed on procedures to protect the rights of Roman Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing children.
But the Vatican declined to specify what changes the commission is recommending in the zero-tolerance policy adopted by U.S. bishops in Dallas in June.
The commission, composed of four U.S. bishops and four Vatican officials, was appointed last week to revise the policy after the Vatican declared that it contained significant flaws. In a brief statement yesterday, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who led the U.S. delegation, said the commission completed its work Tuesday.
"We believe that the goals of the Dallas decision, i.e., to protect minors and to reach out to victims, have been preserved and that the Dallas documents have been completed in elaborating normative procedures that respect the rights of priests who have been accused," he said.
George said the commission would report its specific proposals at a Nov. 11-14 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, where the bishops may vote to amend their policy. It would then be re-submitted to the Vatican for approval.
The heart of the Dallas policy was a pledge to remove from ministry any priest who has ever sexually abused a minor. But Vatican officials complained that the U.S. bishops ignored a 10-year statute of limitations in church law, adopted a loose definition of sexual abuse, handed over authority to lay review boards and failed to protect the due process rights of priests.
Russell Shaw, a Catholic journalist and former spokesman for the bishops' conference, said the commission's speedy work suggests that correcting the Dallas policy was easy. "But that doesn't mean the changes are minor," he said.