Pope John Paul II is expected to give neither a red nor green
light, but a yellow cautionary signal to US Catholic bishops and
their controversial national policy on sexual abuse.
Sources familiar with a Vatican letter expected to be issued
Friday morning say it calls for more dialogue between the Holy See
and the American Church to resolve outstanding differences.
The Vatican letter comes amid a Rome visit by Wilton Gregory,
president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
At issue is the so-called "zero tolerance" plan hammered out four
months ago in Dallas by US bishops. It calls for removing priests
permanently from ministry for a single act of sexual abuse against a
minor, and for steps such as reporting all abuse allegations to
Since then, public outrage has simmered down, but distress among
the clergy and church lawyers has increased.
Many priests feel confused about their rights. Some, worrying
about false accusations, say that the bishops' plan - put together
in haste - has run roughshod over due process. And there is concern
in Rome and the US that the bishop-priest relationship is suffering.
"Many priests feel that the relationship has become somewhat
adversarial, and that priests are assumed guilty until proven
innocent," says the Rev. Robert Silva, head of the National
Federation of Priests' Councils.
The Vatican's reluctance to formally approve the bishops'
proposals - which would make them binding on all bishops - comes
amid wider debate over the US bishops' policy.
Priests call for due process
Some observers claim that bishops, after failing for years to
address victims' allegations adequately, are leaning too far in the
other direction and brushing off denials by priests. At least 300
priests have been removed from the ministry in 2002.
Last month, some priests protested loudly when Baltimore's
Cardinal William Keeler, in responding to the call for more
transparency, made public the names of all archdiocesan clergy
accused of abuse in the past seven decades.
Lay groups are forming to support accused priests and raise money
for lawyers. A new priests' group has formed in New York called
Voice of the Ordained, to stand up for priests' concerns.
Last week at the annual meeting of the Canon Law Society of
America, canon lawyers discussed the need to come to the aid of
bishops, victims, and the accused in interpreting the policy - and
carrying out investigations.
According to Patricia Dugan, a canon and civil lawyer in
Philadelphia, "This is such a massive undertaking, and there just
aren't enough experienced people to handle the process." She says
the way some priests are being treated "would never be abided in any
civil law system."
In a recent issue of the Jesuit weekly America, the Rev. John P.
Beal, associate professor of canon law at Catholic University of
America in Washington, identified what he termed "profoundly
disturbing" aspects of the Dallas charter, including:
* A definition of sexual abuse that is "exceedingly broad and