In what is being billed as one of the most important meetings in the history of the American church, nearly 300 bishops in Dallas are discussing how to deal with clergy who have abused children in the past, and draw up child protection guidelines for the future. In his opening speech on Wednesday, Bishop Wilton Gregory president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops said: "In my own name and in the name of all the bishops, I express the most profound apology to each of you who have suffered sexual abuse by a priest or another official of the Church." "We need to close the divide that has been created between those victims and their families and the bishops, to restore the trust that Catholics have historically had in their priests, by ensuring that all priests are worthy of that trust." To date, four bishops and nearly 250 priests have resigned or been suspended following allegations of sexual misconduct. The Church is also facing hundreds of court cases. The bishops will be voting on a draft document: the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. It expresses "great sorrow and profound regret" for the abuse of children and young people by priests, and promises to reach out to victims and their families to promote healing and reconciliation. It also proposes the following measures for dealing with allegations of abuse. * Each diocese is to set up a review board, comprised mainly of lay people. * If the victim is a minor, the diocese will be required to report the accusation to the authorities. * A priest under investigation will be removed from his normal duties, and if the allegation is proved he will be removed from the priesthood. A formal debate today is expected to be open to the media. For more details visit the American Bishops Conference website at: www.nccbuscc.org/comm/commcur.htm The meeting is being broadcast live on Canadian Catholic radio at: www.canadiancatholicradio.ca
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