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U.S. Catholic bishops revise guidelines against sex abuse

By the CNN Wire Staff
The Catholic Church has faced many accusations of child abuse in the past decades across the U.S. and Europe.
The Catholic Church has faced many accusations of child abuse in the past decades across the U.S. and Europe.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The charter says child pornography is against church law
  • Critics say the charter does not go far enough
  • The Vatican says only a tiny percentage of priests abuse children
  • Pope Benedict XVI issued new rules last year aimed at stopping abuse
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Seattle, Washington (CNN) -- To fight child abuse by priests, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops revised its 2002 charter Thursday, the group said.

Child pornography is a crime against church law and the abuse of someone who is mentally disabled is equivalent to child abuse, the conference said in a statement on its revised Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The charter was created to battle the sexual abuse of minors by clerics, the conference said.

The revisions, passed during the bishops' general assembly in Seattle, coincide with new standards the Vatican issued in May regarding child abuse at the hands of Catholic leaders. The vote was 187-5, with four abstaining, the conference said.

Critics say the changes, and the charter itself, do not go far enough.

"The crux of the crisis continues to be the nearly limitless power of bishops," said David Clohessy, an activist for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Bishops can make all the pledges they want. Until Catholic employees who ignore and conceal child sex crimes or violate the policy are punished, nothing will change," he said.

Church officials differed.

"The charter has served the church well," Bishop Blase J. Cupich said at the conference Wednesday, the Catholic News Service reported. "It is a helpful tool as we keep our pledge to protect children, promote healing and rebuild trust."

Clohessy said the 2002 guidelines, which instruct bishops and other religious leaders to "report an allegation of sexual abuse" of a minor to "the public authorities," are not enforced.

"It's akin to having speed limits with no cops," Clohessy said. "If no one ever gets a ticket, safety won't improve."

The Catholic Church has faced many accusations of child abuse in the past decades across the U.S. and Europe.

In the United States, eight Catholic dioceses and one Jesuit order filed for bankruptcy protection in response to lawsuits from victims, according to Bishop Accountability, which tracks reports of abuse by priests.

The Vatican says only a tiny percentage of priests abuse children, and that it is taking steps to fight the problem, including defrocking priests or forcing them into positions where they do not have contact with the public.

Pope Benedict XVI issued new rules last year aimed at stopping abuse.

They included doubling the statute of limitations on the church's own prosecution of suspected molesters from 10 to 20 years, making it a church crime for a priest to download child pornography, and allowing the pope to defrock a priest without a formal Vatican trial.

 
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