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Vatican Calls for Changes in US Bishops' Sex Abuse Document

The Vatican is calling for changes in a document prepared by U.S. bishops to deal with priests who have been accused of sexual abuse. The Vatican wants to establish a commission of U.S. bishops and Vatican officials to make the necessary changes.

The Vatican said it could not grant "recognitio," or formal approval, of the plan elaborated by U.S. bishops. It said some of the provisions for action were difficult to reconcile with the universal law of the church. It added that some of the terminology in the document was vague and imprecise and difficult to interpret.

The Vatican said further discussion would be required to avoid any misinterpretation of the guidelines. In order to do this, it has proposed establishing a mixed U.S.-Vatican commission, which will work on new guidelines over the next month. The commission's revision should be complete in time for a meeting of all U.S. bishops in November.

The U.S. bishops took a tough stance - calling for zero-tolerance - against priests involved in sexual abuse of minors. But Vatican observers say church officials were concerned about safeguarding the rights of priests. They added that the Vatican does not want priests punished before wrongdoing has been proved.

Vatican officials have also criticized the document prepared by the U.S. bishops for giving too broad a definition to sexual abuse.

But the head of the U.S. bishops' conference, Wilton Gregory, said nothing in the Dallas document was "categorically ruled out" by the Vatican. He said the Vatican had praised the efforts made by U.S. bishops to deal with the problem and said their document would form the basis of the mixed commission's discussions. Bishop Gregory said the document needed only minor changes to get the Vatican's approval.

Bishop Gregory also said the sexual abuse scandals had created a terrible situation in the life of the Church in the United States, which has taken its toll on many different levels. Relations between bishops and their priests have been seriously affected, he said, but also those between priests and fellow priests accused of sexual abuse.