Catholic bishops plan 'secretive' code on abuse

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The Independent US

America's Catholic bishops, still reeling from the worst abuse scandal in recent history, met yesterday to adopt a new discipline policy that they hope will put an end to more than a year of controversy.

America's Catholic bishops, still reeling from the worst abuse scandal in recent history, met yesterday to adopt a new discipline policy that they hope will put an end to more than a year of controversy.

The bishops began a four-day conference in Washington to discuss the code, a version of guidelines adopted this summer at a conference in Dallas on which the Vatican forced a number of revisions.

While the bishops insist the new version maintains the commitment to removing all abusers from the Church, critics say the code is too cumbersome and secretive.

"We are calling on America's bishops to strengthen, not weaken, the promises they made in Dallas," said David Cerulli, a member of a pressure group known as the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

At the meeting in Dallas, the bishops adopted a zero tolerance code under which they would dismiss a cleric "of any ecclesiastical ministry or function" if there was a "credible" accusation of sexual abuse of a minor.

The measures were in effect forced on the Church after a series of allegations of abuse, which led to the dismissal of more than 300 priests.

In January, documents revealed that the Boston archdiocese reassigned priests accused of molesting children to other dioceses without warning anyone.

While campaigners believed the new code represented an important step forward, the Vatican disagreed and felt it gave too much influence to lay people. The Pope described it as vague and imprecise.

The revised code will establish a rule whereby any claims for victims' compensation must be made within 28 years of the alleged crime.

Another amendment to the Dallas charter states that a priest under investigation for child abuse must not have his name released to the public until a verdict is reached in his case.

Campaigners against abuse in the Church are planning a candlelight vigil and news conferences to exert some influence over the debate but, considering the Vatican has now given its blessing to the revised code, they are unlikely to have much success.

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