American Catholics protest at 'witch hunt' of accused priests

 As the American bishops prepare to meet in Dallas next month to draw up a new policy on child protection, many dioceses around the country have already begun enforcing tough rules, swiftly removing accused priests in what has been described a 'witch hunt' by some lay groups. While demanding that the church take a hard line on sex abuse, parishioners in several dioceses have protested over individual cases where priests have been removed after very vague or unproven allegations. In Dallas last month Bishop Charles Grahmann removed two priests not because of any accusation of sexual abuse, but because they had failed to fully comply with new requirements to investigate the backgrounds of all church volunteers. At Sacred Heart church in New Orleans, over 300 parishioners signed a petition in support of their parish priest, who was removed last month because of an incident involving a teenager 15 years ago. Near Richmond, Virginia, parishioners at St Michael's church have started wearing badges and T-shirts in support of their parish priest, who was removed for an alleged incident of what the diocese described as 'inappropriate judgment' that took place in 1971. In Azusa, California, parishioners at St Frances of Rome formed a chain around the church to keep out protesters after their priest was removed following accusations of what detectives called 'inappropriate touching.' In Blue Bayou, Alabama, parishioners at St Louis church protested when their priest was asked to resign after a photograph of him appeared in a book showing him bare chested with a Mardi Gras drag queen. Parishioners at Our Lady of Fatima in Manorhaven, New York are rallying around their 74-year-old priest, who was removed because of an allegation involving a teenager that took place 35 years ago, which he denied. Susan Stabile, a professor at St John's University Law School in New York and a parishioner at Our Lady of Fatima's, said: "Zero tolerance under any circumstances is just too blunt a tool" . "No one is excusing what happened in the past. But the church is essentially creating a system that says a priest who is accused of anything is guilty until proven innocent, and that is a virtually impossible standard to meet." She complained that parishioners also felt completely excluded from the decision-making process. However Barbara Blaine, president and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests dismissed the recent removals as "just anomalies." She said most diocesan policies were "vaguely written and poorly enforced." She added: "The church still fails to comprehend the depth of the victims' pain."

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