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Spotlight Report

Pope moves to oust abusive clergy quicker

By Rachel Zoll, Associated Press, 2/27/2003

Pope John Paul II has approved changes in Vatican policy that will expedite dismissal of some clergy accused of sex abuse and give lay people a greater role at the church trials of alleged molesters, a Vatican official said yesterday.

The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees clerical abuse cases worldwide, now has the authority to oust particularly egregious offenders from the priesthood without a church trial, said Monsignor Charles Scicluna, a prosecutor with the congregation. Previously, only the pope had that power.

For accused priests who maintain their innocence and have a church trial, lay people will now be allowed to serve on the tribunals hearing cases in US dioceses, Scicluna said.

The changes, approved by the pope Feb. 7, are meant to help American bishops deal swiftly with the worst offenders and give smaller dioceses more resources to combat abuse.

The bishops' new policy for dealing with sex abuse of minors was held up last fall because of Vatican demands that priests charged with molestation get a church trial. Ultimately, the Holy See and US prelates agreed that accused priests would have their cases heard before a tribunal of three clergymen with expertise in canon law.

The pontiff has now decreed that lay people, not just priests, can be appointed to the tribunals. And the tribunal members will not be required to have doctorates in church law, although they still must have expertise in the church's legal code.

If the cleric confesses, or if evidence of criminal wrongdoing is overwhelming, the congregation in Rome now has the power to simply oust him, Scicluna said. The accused will still have a chance to challenge his dismissal and his bishop also will have input in the decision, Scicluna said.

At least 325 of the 46,000 priests in the United States have either been dismissed from their duties or resigned since the crisis erupted in January 2002.

This story ran on page A7 of the Boston Globe on 2/27/2003.
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