Axing Abusive Priests Risky, Church Told
Sydney Morning Herald [United States]
February 25, 2004
The US Catholic Church's "zero tolerance" on sexual abuse by priests is an overreaction to a public outcry and can increase the chances that offenders might abuse again, a report released by the Vatican has found.
Many US dioceses say they are aggressively pursuing zero-tolerance policies after being stung by charges that church hierarchy was trying to protect abusive priests, often by shuffling them from parish to parish.
But the 219-page report included expressions of concern that sexually abusive priests who are cast out of ministry and pushed away from the church might be more likely to abuse again because they would be isolated and their behaviour would be less likely to be monitored.
"Although until now the phenomenon of abuse was not always taken seriously enough, at present there is a tendency to overreact and rob accused priests of even legitimate support," wrote one of the editors of the report, Manfred Luetz, in its conclusion. Dr Luetz, a German psychiatrist, is a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
The report, Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: Scientific and Legal Perspectives, was made available on Monday. It mainly presents the perspectives of eight scientists, all of whom are experts in the study or treatment of sexual abuse. None of the eight is Catholic. They examined how to better screen young priests to ensure they would not abuse the young and how to treat them if they did.
Their perspectives were distilled from the papers they presented and the comments they made at a private four-day conference in the Vatican City in April that was sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life.
While the report repeatedly challenges the wisdom of the zero-tolerance policy, it also represents an unusually unblinking, expansive acknowledgment by the Vatican of the problem of sexually abusive priests.
It shows the Vatican's interest in looking to science, and not just prayer, for answers. Many critics of the church's past response to sexually abusive priests have said bishops too often believed that penance alone could keep a priest who had molested a child from repeating the offence.
The report does not present any single prevailing viewpoint, and Vatican officials said it should not be considered a set of Vatican-stamped rules for how to think about and respond to sexual abuse by priests.
But one official said the report might indeed serve as a "point of reference" for the development of church policy. The report will be sent to bishops' conferences around the world, Vatican councils and congregations. Patrick McSorley, one of the most outspoken victims of the clerical sex abuse scandal that rocked the Boston Catholic Church and eventually led to the resignation of archbishop Bernard Law, was found dead on Monday.
The cause of death was not immediately released. Mr McSorley's lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, said he was unaware whether his 29-year-old client had committed suicide. Mr McSorley was sexually abused by a defrocked Boston priest, John Geoghan, who was killed by a fellow inmate in jail last year.
He particularly attacked church administrators for transferring accused priests from parish to parish, allowing them to commit further abuses against children.
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