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THE Vatican yesterday rejected the American Church's new child sexual abuse policy against priests.

It said the zero-tolerance crackdown needed to be revised as elements conflicted with universal Church law.

While supporting the efforts to stamp out clergy sex abuse, the Vatican said the policy had provisions that were "difficult to reconcile" with canon law.

It added: "For these reasons it has been judged appropriate that before the Vatican approval can be granted a further reflection on and revision of the 'Norms' and the 'Charter' are necessary."

The response, signed by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation of Bishops, proposed a joint US-Vatican commission to revise the policy.

Among other things, the policy requires dioceses to remove priests from Church work once a credible allegation is made and, in some instances, have them removed from the priesthood itself.

The policy rules out the idea a priest can be rehabilitated, saying an offender will be relieved of his ministry for "even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor - past, present or future".

Bishop Wilton Gregory, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he welcomed the idea of a joint-commission.

Asked whether he thought the Vatican would continue to oppose elements of the proposal which calls for a priest's removal, Bishop Gregory replied: "Nothing has been ruled out."

He also was asked if the Vatican response would force bishops already implementing the policy to stop.

Bishop Gregory replied: "Will they stop? No. And the commission has not asked the bishops to stop.

"It simply says let us sit down and talk together about issues that need to be clarified 'recognition' can be granted."

The US plan was adopted in June in response to huge pressure that the Church take a tough stance following a flood of child sex abuse allegations against clergy.

At least 300 of the 46,000 priests in the States have been removed from their ministries since the scandal erupted in January.

Waves of accusations have since poured in and many reports have alleged Church leaders tried to cover up any wrongdoing by moving known offenders from parish to parish.

Victims' groups in the States said yesterday's response showed the Vatican was more concerned with the protection of priests than minors.

Sue Archibald, spokeswoman for advocacy group The Linkup, claimed bishops who oppose the new policy would now ignore it.

She added: "It brings us back to the same situation we've been in for the last several years.

"Let's look at the rights of victims here - the ones who have suffered the most."

But the Reverend Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests' Councils, called the Vatican response "good news".
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 19, 2002
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