Pope: Be Fair To Priests
VATICAN CITY, Feb. 6, 2004
(AP) Pope John Paul II called Friday for fairness in judging
priests accused of sex abuse but said the "predominant"
need was to protect the young. That, he said, would be assured
if seminaries and church authorities did a better job instructing
priests to be celibate.
The pope made the comments in a speech to members of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog
which also judges cases of priests accused of sexual misconduct.
John Paul told the prelates they had seen a "noteworthy
increase" in their caseload ever since the abuse crisis
erupted in the United States in January 2002, with dozens
of reports of abusive priests who had been moved from parish
to parish rather than punished.
Since then, more than 325 of the United States' 46,000 clergy
have either resigned or been barred from church work.
But John Paul said current church law if fairly applied "tends
to guarantee the exercise of the right of defense of the accused
as well as the needs of the common good."
Once there is evidence of a crime, church authorities must
consider "the just principle of proportionality between
guilt and punishment, as well as the predominant need to protect
the people of God," he said.
That, he said, doesn't just depend on applying church law
"but finds greater guarantee in the just and balanced
formation of future priests called in an explicit way to embrace
with joy and generosity the style of humble, modest and chaste
life, which is the practical foundation of ecclesiastical
He called for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith
and other Vatican councils to work better together in instructing
seminarians "to adopt the necessary measures to assure
that priests live in conformity to their call and to their
commitment to perfect and perpetual chastity for the Kingdom
In the wake of the abuse crisis, U.S. bishops adopted a Vatican-approved
policy to deal with accused priests, allowing bishops to conduct
a confidential, preliminary inquiry when a molestation claim
is made to determine whether it is plausible. If it is, the
accused priest is put on leave and then must go before a clerical
tribunal to determine his guilt or innocence.
The new policy also compels bishops to obey local civil law
on reporting abuse claims, but not more than that.
John Paul has spoken out frequently about the need for priests
to be celibate, particularly in the wake of the sex crisis.
He has rejected calls for flexibility in the requirement,
which some say might address the dwindling number of vocations
in many parts of the world.