Report Criticizes U.S. Catholic Church's Policy
on Child Abuse by Priests
By Daniel Williams and Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
VATICAN CITY, Feb. 23 -- A draft report released Monday by
scientists commissioned by the Vatican harshly criticized
as potentially dangerous the U.S. Catholic Church's policy
of removing priests from the ministry for committing one act
of child abuse.
The report, the result of a conference held here last April
that featured eight non-Catholic experts, recommended that
the so-called zero-tolerance policy be reconsidered. A Canadian
expert, William Marshall, described the policy as an "abdication
of responsibility" that could discourage offending clerics
from seeking treatment. Moreover, he wrote, "Such a policy
is certain to have disastrous consequences, including the
clergy sex offender committing suicide or re-offending.
"All offending clerics should be offered treatment and
then reintegrated as much as possible into the normal aspects
Zero tolerance "does not function to prevent these crimes,"
Hans-Ludwig Kroeber, director of Berlin's Institute of Forensic
Psychiatry, said at the symposium. "It is better to domesticate
the dragon. If all you do is cut off its head, it will grow
The 220-page report, called "Sexual Abuse in the Catholic
Church: Scientific and Legal Perspectives," said that
public opinion had put the church under pressure to move with
"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,"
the report says.
A Vatican spokesman said the findings might provide a basis
for future policy. The report will be published next month
and distributed within the church hierarchy and to bishops
around the world. "It will be taken into consideration,"
said Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman.
In remarks to reporters last Friday, Bishop Wilton Gregory,
president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, took
a cautious approach to the pending report but suggested that
the American bishops would likely not be swayed.
"We have given our word that we will not restore a cleric
to public office even with one allegation," he said.
"What to do with those individuals is still a question
that needs further review. But I don't believe that the bishops
of the United States at this time are willing to step back
from the very strong position that we took and that we are
implementing even as we speak."
The experts' recommendations come at a critical juncture
for the U.S. church, which is scheduled this week to release
two major studies on the sex abuse scandal, including one
that will indicate what church records show about the number
of priests who have committed abuse since 1950. According
to a leaked draft, 4,450 priests have been accused of molesting
more than 11,000 children.
In addition, the U.S. bishops conference is due this summer
to review its two-year-old policy. That policy promises that
no priest who has ever abused a child will be returned to
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