Bishop Accountability
 
 

Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial
Policies Dealing with Allegations
of Sexual Abuse of Minors
by Priests, Deacons,
or Other Church Personnel


Approved by USCCB on June 14, 2002, for recognitio by the Holy See.

Preamble

On June 14, 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter addresses the Church's commitment to deal appropriately and effectively with cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests, deacons, and other church personnel (i.e., employees and volunteers). The bishops of the United States have promised to reach out to those who have been sexually abused as minors by anyone serving the Church in ministry, employment, or a volunteer position, whether the sexual abuse was recent or occurred many years ago. They stated that they would be as open as possible with the people in parishes and communities about instances of sexual abuse of minors, with respect always for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved. They have committed themselves to the pastoral and spiritual care and emotional well-being of those who have been sexually abused and of their families.

In addition, the bishops will work with parents, civil authorities, educators, and various organizations in the community to make and maintain the safest environment for minors. In the same way, the bishops have pledged to evaluate the background of seminary applicants as well as all church personnel, who have responsibility for the care and supervision of children and young people.

Therefore, to ensure that each diocese/eparchy in the United States of America will have procedures in place to respond promptly to all allegations of sexual abuse of minors, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops decrees these norms for diocesan/eparchial policies dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests, deacons, or other church personnel.

Norms

1. These norms, after approval by the Apostolic See, constitute particular law for all the dioceses/eparchies of the United States of America. Two years after recognitio has been received, these norms will be evaluated.

2. Each diocese/eparchy will have a written policy on the sexual abuse of minors by priests, deacons, or other church personnel. A copy of this policy will be filed with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops within three months of the effective date of these norms. Copies of any eventual revisions of the written diocesan/eparchial policy are also to be filed with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops within three months of such modifications.

3. Each diocese/eparchy will designate a competent assistance coordinator to aid in the immediate pastoral care of persons who claim to have been sexually abused when they were minors by priests, deacons, or other church personnel.

4. To assist the diocesan/eparchial bishop in his work, each diocese/eparchy will have a review board whose functions include

A. The assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests, deacons, and other church personnel in order to advise the diocesan/eparchial bishop on whether or not the allegations appear to be credible; the assessment will be communicated to the victim and accused; the board can act both retrospectively and prospectively on these matters;

B. The review of the diocesan/eparchial policy and procedures for dealing with these allegations at least every two years in order to recommend to the diocesan/eparchial bishop any modifications, if appropriate; and

C. The recommendation concerning fitness for ministry in particular cases.

5. The review board, established by the diocesan/eparchial bishop, will be composed of at least five persons of outstanding integrity and good judgment. The majority of the review board members will be lay persons who are not in the employ of the diocese/eparchy; but at least one member should be a priest, and at least one member should have particular expertise in the treatment of the sexual abuse of minors. The members will be appointed for a term of five years, which can be renewed.

6. Each province will establish an appellate review board, to be composed of at least five persons of outstanding integrity and good judgment. The majority of the members will be lay persons; but at least one member should be a bishop, and at least one member should be a canon lawyer. The appellate review board's function will be to offer—upon request by the bishop, the alleged victim, or the accused—its advice to the diocesan/eparchial bishop on the case (cf. norm 4A). The request must be made within fifteen (15) days after the alleged victim or the accused has been notified of the assessment of the initial review board. Within sixty (60) days of its receiving the request, the appellate review board's advice will be communicated to those involved.

7. When a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by priests, deacons, or other church personnel is made, the alleged offender will be relieved of any ecclesiastical ministry or function. An investigation in harmony with canon law will promptly commence. The accused will be encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel and will be promptly notified of the preliminary findings of the investigation.

8. If the credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor involves a priest or deacon, the ordinary/hierarch will ask him to undergo appropriate medical and psychological evaluation and intervention, if possible.

9. Where sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate investigation in accord with canon law, the following will pertain:

A. Diocesan/eparchial policy will provide that for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor—past, present, or future—the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry.

B. In every case, the processes provided for in canon law must be observed, and the various provisions of canon law must be considered (cf. Canonical Delicts Involving Sexual Misconduct and Dismissal from the Clerical State, 1995; Letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, May 18, 2001). These provisions may include a request by the priest or deacon for dispensation from the obligations of holy orders and the loss of the clerical state, or a request by his diocesan/eparchial bishop for dismissal from the clerical state even without the consent of the priests or deacons. For the sake of due process, the accused is to be encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel. When necessary, the diocese/eparchy will supply canonical counsel to a priest.

C. If the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has not been applied (e.g., for reasons of advanced age or infirmity), the offender is to lead a life of prayer and penance. He will not be permitted to celebrate Mass publicly, to wear clerical garb, or to present himself publicly as a priest.

10. The diocese/eparchy will report to the public authorities any allegation (unless canonically privileged) of sexual abuse of a person who is currently a minor and will cooperate in their investigation. It will cooperate with public authorities about reporting in cases when the person alleged to have been abused is no longer a minor. In every instance, the diocese/eparchy will advise and support a person's right to make a report to public authorities.

11. Before a priest or deacon is proposed to another diocese/eparchy for assignment, transfer, or residence, if there is anything in his background to indicate that he would be a danger to children or young people, an accurate and complete description of the priest's or deacon's record will be forwarded by his ordinary/hierarch to the local ordinary/hierarch of his new residence. This holds even if the priest or deacon will only reside in the local community of an institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life (or, in the Eastern Churches, as a monk or other religious, in a society of common life according to the manner of religious, in a secular institute, or in another form of consecrated life or society of apostolic life).

12. Care will always be taken to protect the rights of all parties involved, particularly those of the person claiming to have been sexually abused and the person against whom the charge has been made. When the accusation has proved to be unfounded, every step possible will be taken to restore the good name of the person falsely accused.

13. These norms will become particular law after recognitio is received from the Holy See.

 

 
 

Bishop Accountability © 2003
     
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