The Vatican announced Monday the approval of the revised U.S. bishops’ policy that allows “due process” for priests accused of molesting children.
“The Holy See is fully supportive of the bishops’ efforts to combat and to prevent such evil,” Cardinal Giovanni Re said in a statement.
“The universal law of the Church has always recognized this crime as one of the most serious offenses which sacred ministers can commit, and has determined that they be punished with the most severe penalties, not excluding if the case so requires dismissal from the clerical state.”
The move modifies a “zero tolerance” policy adopted in June at a bishops’ meeting in Dallas, Texas, that the Vatican rejected. In November, Roman Catholic bishops approved a revised plan, establishing church tribunals for priests accused of sex abuse, and sent it to the Vatican for its approval.
The new version calls for church tribunals to review cases before any action is taken against a priest and underscores the primacy of the bishops in setting penalties. It provides for priests accused of molesting children to face a church tribunal and imposes a statue of limitations 10 years after the accuser’s 18th birthday.
But the plan also provides for the Vatican to waive the statute of limitations on a request by a bishop, and those waivers are expected to be readily granted.
“By ensuring that the true facts are ascertained, the approved norms protect inviolable human rights including the right to defend oneself and guarantee respect for the dignity of all those involved, beginning with the victims,” Re said.
“Moreover, they uphold the principle, fundamental in all just systems of law, that a person is considered innocent until either a regular process or his own spontaneous admission proves him guilty.”
The widely anticipated decision was made at least a week ago and was announced three days after Friday’s resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law as Boston archbishop. Law stepped down in the face of the sex abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese.
The policy is now binding and obligatory under church law in the United States.
Re said the Holy See, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in Vatican City, “is spiritually united to the victims of abuse and to their families and encourages particular concern for them on the part of the bishops, priests and the whole Catholic community.”
The Holy See and the U.S. bishops feel “duty-bound in justice and in gratitude to reaffirm and defend the good name of the overwhelming majority of priests and deacons who are and have always been exemplary in their fidelity to the demands of their vocation but have been offended or unjustly slandered by association,” Re said.