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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 celibacy."

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 of God."

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.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests