* U.S. Catholic bishops to revise sex abuse policy
* Critics argue for punishments for church cover-ups
* Bishops to issue statement opposed to assisted suicide
By Elaine Porterfield
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Leaders of the U.S. Roman
Catholic Church unveiled proposed changes Wednesday to their
policy governing cases of sex abuse, dismissing criticism they
are only tweaking at the margins.
The U.S. church has taken strong steps to address sex abuse
by priests and will vote Thursday to enact revisions to its
2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,
said Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, who heads the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee on the subject.
"I would point out there are nearly 200 dioceses in the
United States and we are seeing that the charter is working,"
Cupich told reporters at a bishops' meeting in Seattle.
"If we look at the cases ... it was when the charter was
not followed correctly we got into difficulty. It goes back to
the importance of staying with the charter," he said.
The bishops' charter, revised once before in 2005, was
created when cases of priest abuse emerged in Boston and then
across the United States and the world. The U.S. church has
paid some $2 billion in settlements, bankrupting a handful of
The church has also been stung by recent sex abuse and
child pornography accusations against clergy in Philadelphia,
Kansas City, Missouri, and elsewhere.
Most of the proposed revisions bring the U.S. charter into
line with the Vatican's dictates on the definition of minors
subjected to abuse and the requirement to report abuse
accusations against bishops.
Included in the draft is Pope Benedict's pronouncement to
U.S. bishops in 2008 to "bind up the wounds caused by every
breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation
and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously
Victims' groups such as the Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests have criticized the charter as inadequate and
a recent study commissioned by the U.S. bishops as a whitewash
of what they believe is an ongoing crisis in the church.
The groups want the church to spell out punishments for
bishops and others in the church hierarchy who have covered up
for offending clergy. They also want strict reporting of
accusations, not just those that are "proven."
"One change (to the charter) is including child pornography
as a case of child abuse," Cupich said.
"We deal directly and transparently when allegations are
made," Cupich said. "Immediately, of course, it's reported to
the police. If in fact it is admitted or proven credible, that
priest is removed from the ministry."
"Our priests have background checks. ... There are a number
of measures like that which are very strict. We are going to
continue to tighten it up. We have a commitment to protect
children," he said.
END ASSISTED SUICIDE
The bishops also prepared to issue a statement Thursday
opposing assisted suicide -- in which doctors can prescribe a
fatal dose of medication that the patient can take. The
practice is legal in Oregon, Washington and Montana.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said the
bishops needed to make a strong statement on "why we consider
it dangerous and why we consider it an assault on the human
"Compassion is most stated when we come to the aid of a
person ... by giving them help, not by ending their lives," he
Addressing the bishops' move, supporters of assisted
suicide said the Catholic Church should not dictate laws.
"The choice of how to address suffering and terminal
illness must be the province of dying individuals themselves in
consultation with their doctors, their loved ones, their
clergy, and their conscience," said Barbara Lee, president of
the group Compassion & Choices.
DiNardo said gravely ill patients needed support, not help
from doctors to kill themselves.
"Medicine is not around to end people's lives. Medicine is
tainted by physician-assisted suicide," he said.
(Editing by Andrew Stern and Peter Cooney)
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