A joint commission of U.S. bishops and senior Vatican officials has decided to reimpose a 10-year statute of limitations on the Roman Catholic Church's internal disciplining of American priests accused of sexually abusing children, Chicago Cardinal Francis George said.
In addition, the panel tightened the definition of sexual abuse in the Dallas policy and decided that accused priests could not be permanently removed from ministerial duties unless they are convicted by a church tribunal, George said.
Victims advocates said the decision is a retreat from a key part of the zero-tolerance policy adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops four months ago in Dallas in response to the nationwide scandal over priestly sexual abuse. That policy called for the permanent removal from ministry of any Catholic clergyman who had ever sexually abused a minor, no matter how long ago.
But George said in an interview Friday that the policy adopted in Dallas would be strengthened by Vatican officials' insistence on spelling out procedures to ensure priests' due process rights.
The revisions to the Dallas policy will be presented to the full body of U.S. bishops at a Nov. 11-14 meeting. If accepted, the revised policy would be resubmitted to the Vatican for final approval and become binding on every diocese in the United States.
The joint commission was appointed last month to revise the Dallas policy after the Vatican ruled that it contained "vague" language and conflicted with the church's "universal" laws. Among those worldwide laws is a requirement that allegations of sexual abuse by priests must be brought within 10 years of the victim's 18th birthday. George said the Vatican agreed to consider waiving it on a case-by-case basis.
George headed a delegation of four U.S. bishops that huddled for two days with four senior prelates at the Vatican. .
-- Kari Lydersen and Alan Cooperman