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Vatican Demands Revision of US Bishops' Sex Abuse Policy - 2002-10-18

Victims of sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in the United States say they are unhappy with the Vatican's decision to reject a new sex abuse policy proposed by American bishops. Abuse victims' groups say the church is still resisting reform.

Bishops throughout the United States drafted the new sex abuse policy last June in Dallas. It is aimed at ridding the church of all abuse of young people. On Friday, Vatican officials called the charter "vague and imprecise." The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Wilton Gregory of Illinois, announced the decision at a news conference Friday in Rome. "The Holy See has identified several areas in these two documents it believes need further discussion and greater precision," he said.

The American bishops have accepted the Vatican's call to amend the charter, and victims' advocacy groups say the bishops are failing in their duty. Barbara Blaine heads the Chicago-based group "Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests." "We can not rely on the Church to reform itself, so the responsibility now comes back to prosecutors here to put these men in jail, for the legislators to change the laws, so prosecutors can prosecute," she said.

Part of the proposed policy requires Roman Catholic bishops in the United States to remove priests from church work once a credible abuse allegation is made. Vatican officials have said such a requirement might violate church law because it deprives accused priests of their due process rights.

The head of the Chicago Roman Catholic archdiocese, Cardinal Francis George, says he is not surprised by the Vatican's decision. "I would be surprised if they did not accept it in some form," said Cardinal George. "I would be surprised also if they did not modify it in some form."

A group made up of Vatican officials and U.S. bishops will revise the sex abuse policy during the next few weeks, and present it to the full U.S. Conference of Bishops at its next meeting in November. At least 300 priests in the United States have been dismissed this year for past abuse of young people.