Vatican City, Oct. 18 (Reuters): In a major setback for the US Catholic Church, the Vatican flatly rejected today proposals by US bishops on how to punish sexually abusive priests.
The Vatican said rules adopted by the American Roman Catholic bishops in June to deal with the worst scandal to hit their Church were inadequate, confusing, legally ambiguous and imprecise.
It said the approval the bishops had sought could not be granted for the punitive rules in their current form and that the American prelates had to go back to the drawing board to revise them together with the Vatican.
The Vatican revealed its position in a long-awaited response to the US bishops’ request for a “recognitio”, or formal approval of rules they elaborated at a June meeting in Dallas.
The Vatican has been worried that accused priests may be punished before any wrongdoing is proved and wary of what Pope John Paul has called “summary trials”.
Responding in a letter it called sexual abuse of minors abhorrent and praised the bishops’ efforts to stem it. But it added: “Despite these efforts, the application of the (Dallas) policies can be the source of confusion and ambiguity because the ‘norms’ and ‘charter’ contain provisions which in some aspects are difficult to reconcile with the universal law of the Church,” the letter said.
The regulations the Americans wanted to enact say a bishop should dismiss a cleric “of any ecclesiastical ministry or function” if there was a “credible” accusation that he had sexually abused a minor.
From the start Vatican officials had expressed concern that the norms, or rules, did not fully respect due process and human rights as outlined in the Church’s Code of Canon Law.
Canon law is the Church’s internal code of regulations. It has no direct bearing on civil law but bishops in the United States have promised in the norms to turn paedophile priests over to civil authorities when there was a credible accusation.
Parts of the Vatican letter were sugar-coated to soften the blow to the bishops, but the missive also said the terminology in the norms was often “vague or imprecise and therefore difficult to interpret”.