Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Church's new rules fall short – again

Church's new rules fall short – again
Published: 2:00 AM - 07/21/10
Common sense and simple decency suggest that if it is proven that some members of an organization have been abusing their special status to sexually molest children entrusted to their care, the leaders of that organization would do everything in their power to dispatch the abusers to the proper legal authorities and discourage anyone who might be tempted to protect them. Swift punishment. Policies and procedures that leave no room for doubt.

The leadership of the Catholic Church, for whatever reasons, has been unable to fully grasp this concept for several decades now. Its latest attempt, in a document issued by the Vatican last week, again falls short. It did little to change the widely held perception that its leaders are still more interested in shielding the Catholic Church than in protecting its most vulnerable parishioners.

The Catholic Church's "new" rules and procedures on clerical sexual abuse now include church penalties for priests who abuse the mentally disabled as well as children and those who use child pornography. They double the statute of limitations on these offenses. And that's about it. They do not include a one-strike-and-you're-out penalty for pedophile priests. They do not require bishops to report every instance of sex abuse to police. They do not include penalties for bishops who cover up abuse. Nor do they eliminate the statute of limitations for such crimes.

Incredibly, the new rules do manage to insult women by listing the ordination of women as priests — arguably one of the most likely ways of eliminating much of the sex abuse — as a grave offense against the church, on par with pedophilia. So, women priests are the moral equivalent of child molesters?

The Vatican's sex crimes prosecutor — a job description that merits review — said a requirement for clergy to report abuse to police was unnecessary since all Christians (including bishops) are required to obey civil law. Perhaps. But there's a lot to be said for clarity. How about something like this?: The Catholic Church is profoundly saddened by and deeply regrets the instances of sex abuse by members of its clergy against children. It pledges to do everything in its power to rid itself of the abusers and those who would protect them and to vigorously prosecute such behavior in the future.

Think of all the lost parishioners and millions of dollars in hush money that approach could have saved.

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