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Leader: Bishops to Be Held Accountable

Jun 18, 2002 | AP

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said he believes a new church policy adequately holds bishops accountable for sexually abusive clergy.

Some critics have said the policy does not go far enough to make sure bishops are held responsible if they fail to enforce the policy. But Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., said Monday he expects bishops to hold each other accountable, aided by the public.

The policy was approved at last week's meeting of Roman Catholic bishops in Dallas. The policy, which still needs final approval from the Vatican, would remove abusive priests from church work but not necessarily the priesthood.

The policy also states that sexual abuse is a crime, and requires church leaders to report allegations of abuse to authorities.

In light of the recent nationwide scandal, "I shudder to think that a bishop would violate the provisions of the charter and think it wouldn't be publicly known," Gregory said.

At least 250 priests have either been dismissed from their duties or resigned since the sex abuse scandal erupted in Boston early this year.

As part of the new policy, the bishops formed a national board, to be led by Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, that would annually review whether church leaders — including bishops — are complying with the policy.

Among those who have expressed early concern about the policy is the Rev. Robert Silva, head of the National Federation of Priests' Councils, which claims a membership of about half of the nation's 46,000 priests.

Silva has said the plan includes punishments for priests but no sanctions for bishops who mishandle abuse cases.

Gregory said unwanted publicity should be enough to deter misbehavior by priests. "If bishops fail to comply, it is the responsibility of the board to make that known," he said.

Gregory has been among the most frank of Catholic leaders in the U.S., acknowledging the church's failure to address sexual abuse in the past. He also has defended the media, a target of criticism by some church leaders who believe reporters have been too aggressive in their pursuit of the scandal.

On Sunday, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago compared journalists taking notes and videotaping his worship services to spies. He ordered cameras and notebooks to be put away.

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