American bishops vote in new child protection policy

 The American bishops voted in a set of rules to stamp out clerical child sex abuse, at the close of their meeting in Dallas on Saturday. Under the new charter, any priest who molests a child will be barred from face-to-face contact with parishioners. He will not be allowed to undertake active work in the church, including celebrating Mass or teaching in a parochial school. He could also be defrocked, but such a decision would be made by the presiding bishop, under the advice of a board made up mainly of lay people. The measures were voted in by 239-13, after two days of intense debate, during which several people who had been molested by priests as children gave testimony. At the opening of the summit, Bishop Wilton Gregory, who chaired the conference, acknowledged the pain the church had caused and expressed remorse for the scandal. He 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." In his closing speech, Bishop Gregory said: "From this day forward no one known to have sexually abused a child will work in the Catholic Church in the United States." At a news conference, Bishop Gregory said that a new national review board, to be led by Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma, a Catholic, was also being established to study the extent and causes of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, including numbers of abusers and victims, and would help police adherence to the new charter. Other board members named included Robert S. Bennett, a prominent Washington lawyer who defended President Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones case, and Justice Anne Burke of the Illinois Court of Appeals. Justice Burke is an expert on child welfare issues. The board will eventually include 15 to 20 more members, and Mr. Keating said that they would include some victims of sexual abuse by priests. Mr. Keating was asked whether his committee would call on the Pope to remove bishops whom it found to have systematically covered up abuses by priests in their dioceses. "Yes, I think that should be done," he said. "The reality is that this is not only a horrible sin to do these things, but it is also a criminal act. To suggest that somebody like that would get away in the eyes of the church is inconceivable to me." Campaigners outside the meeting were unhappy at the outcome. Many had hoped the bishops would adopt a blanket 'zero tolerance' policy under which abusive priests would be automatically defrocked. Mark Serrano, of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said: "They will find children to prey upon." The new charter must now be approved by the Vatican in order to become binding in all US dioceses. To read all the submissions, arguments and speeches, visit the American Bishops Conference website at:

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