DALLAS, Texas, United States (AP) Hoping to finally heal their fractured church, Americas Roman Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved a policy that allows them to keep sexually abusive clergy in the priesthood but bars them from face-to-face contact with parishioners.
The policy, put together because of a sex scandal that has shaken the church to its core and forced a summit with the Pope, drew sharp criticism from victims. Many had called for a zero tolerance policy that would oust all abusers.
The plan is intended to be binding on 178 mainstream dioceses across the country. It represents a major shift from the voluntary discipline guidelines the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has relied on for years, although it needs Vatican approval to become binding.
The prelates stood and applauded after they approved the policy on a 239-13 vote Friday by secret ballot.
"From this day forward, no one known to have sexually abused a child will work in the Catholic church in the United States," said Bishop Wilton Gregory, the conference president. He also apologized for "our tragically slow response in recognizing the horror" of sexual abuse.
To the people hurt most by sexual predators in the clergy - victims - the new policy doesn't go far enough.
"There's no accountability," said Cyndi Desrosiers, a victim from Maine. "They again are handling this amongst the ranks."
Under the plan, abusers past and future will technically remain priests, but they will be prohibited from any work connected to the church - from teaching in parochial school to serving in a Catholic soup kitchen.
"He will not be permitted to celebrate mass publicly, to wear clerical garb or to present himself publicly as a priest," says the policy, which covers 3,500 words in 17 separate articles.
Abusers still can be defrocked - removed from the priesthood - but it would be up to the presiding bishop, acting on the advice of an advisory board comprised mainly of lay people. …