Revised US child protection charter maintains 'zero tolerance'

 All the main provisions of the US bishops' new child protection charter, have been left intact by the revisions asked for by the Vatican according to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. Speaking in Rome yesterday, he said that, contrary to widely reported speculation that the revisions would mean dioceses dropping the 'zero-tolerance' policy on child abuse ,the new version of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in several instances strengthened the hand of a bishop dealing with alleged sexual abuse by one of his priests or deacons. A new footnote stresses the fact that the charter is just as applicable to the religious orders as diocesan priests. The revisions were drawn up in Rome last week by four representatives of the US bishops and four top Vatican officials. The American bishops, who approved an earlier version of the norms in June, are to debate and vote on the revised version when they meet in Washington next week. The original guidelines, drawn by by the American bishops in Dallas in June were rejected by the Vatican, on the grounds that they were 'vague and confusing.' One of the major controversies remaining since the bishops adopted the charter at their June meeting in Dallas has been how to reconcile the church's statute of limitations on prosecuting crimes with the bishops' commitment to remove permanently from ministry any priest found to have sexually abused a child. The statute of limitations says a cleric cannot be tried for a sexual crime against a minor unless the case is initiated within 10 years after the victim turns 18. The norms the bishops passed in June did not address that problem directly, although the bishops committed themselves to removing any priest who has been found to have abused a child, regardless of when it occurred. Cardinal George said he thought the new version strengthened the ability of victims to be allowed to report abuse and not feel intimidated. "What we achieved is a kind of clarity," he said. Victims' groups opposing the Vatican's rejection of the plans last month still criticise the new document. David Clohessy, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told the Chicago Tribune that he feared older priests who were not brought to court under the statute of limitations could abuse more children. He told The Washington Post: "Catholics need to know that abusers will be taken out of ministry and stay out of ministry, regardless of when their first offence occurred."

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