Vatican Report Criticizes Church’s Policy on Child Abuse

February 27, 2004

VATICAN CITY – A draft report released Monday by scientists commissioned by the Vatican harshly criticized as potentially dangerous the U.S. Catholic Church’s policy of removing priests from the ministry for committing one act of child abuse.

The report, the result of a conference held here last April that featured eight non-Catholic experts, recommended that the so-called zero tolerance policy be reconsidered.

A Canadian expert, William Marshall, described zero tolerance as an “abdication of responsibility” that could discourage offending clerics from seeking treatment.

Moreover, he wrote, “Such a policy is certain to have disastrous consequences, including the clergy sex offender committing suicide or re-offending.

“All offending clerics should be offered treatment and then reintegrated as much as possible into the normal aspects of life.”

Zero tolerance “does not function to prevent these crimes,” Hans-Ludwig Kroeber, director of Berlin’s Institute of Forensic Psychiatry, told the symposium.

“It is better to domesticate the dragon. If all you do is cut off its head, it will grow another.”

The 220-page report, called “Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: Scientific and Legal Perspectives,” said that public opinion had put the church under pressure to move with “destructive severity.”

“ALTHOUGH until now the phenomenon of abuse was not always taken seriously enough, at present there is a tendency to overreact and rob accused priests of even legitimate support,” the report says.

A Vatican spokesman said the findings might provide a basis for future policy. It will be published next month and distributed within the church hierarchy and to bishops around the world.

“It will be taken into consideration,” said Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman.

 

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