* U.S. bishops overwhelmingly back changes to abuse policy
* Critics say policy inadequate, does not punish cover-ups
* Bishops issue statement opposed to assisted suicide laws
By Elaine Porterfield
SEATTLE (Reuters) - U.S. Roman Catholic bishops
Thursday approved slight revisions to their policy governing
child sex abuse, saying the church would not tolerate offending
priests. But critics said children were still vulnerable.
After minimal debate, the bishops passed revisions to its
decade-old Charter for the Protection of Children and Young
People, which for the first time listed child pornography as
equivalent to sexual abuse and cited the need to protect
mentally disabled people from abuse.
The bishops voted 187 in favor of the revised charter, with
five opposed and four bishops abstaining. A two-thirds vote was
needed for approval.
"We are not going to put the priest offenders first,"
Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, told reporters
after the vote.
"We learned the hard way the advice we got from psychology
that people could be rehabilitated was bad advice ... they
re-offended. You cannot take that risk," said Cupich, who
headed the bishops' committee on the topic.
The bishops also approved their first formal statement
opposing assisted-suicide laws in three U.S. states, with other
states considering similar legislation.
ABUSE POLICY INADEQUATE
Victims' groups have argued the church's response to the
sexual abuse crisis has been inadequate, since some offending
priests have been reassigned to unsuspecting parishes, or
received "treatment" and put back into ministry.
"The bishops had a choice between being complacent or being
vigilant. They chose to be complacent," said Barbara Dorris of
the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"We fear that the charter, as it stands, with no
consequences for failure to observe it or to in any way protect
children, is dangerous," she said. "The kids are no safer than
they were yesterday."
Critics of the church's response say U.S. church officials
are given a free hand to discipline offending clergy, yet some
ignored reporting requirements and covered up crimes.
The charter, which was previously revised in 2005, was
created under pressure after a rash of clergy abuse cases were
uncovered in the Boston diocese. Abuse discoveries subsequently
spread across the United States and then around the world.
Additions to the sex abuse charter approved Thursday
align American church policy with Vatican dictates and
statements by Pope Benedict.
The bishops approved a separate statement, "To Live Each
Day With Dignity," that lays out the U.S. church's case against
"There is tremendous need for the church to speak clearly"
on the subject, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston
said after the nearly unanimous approval by the bishops.
The bishops' statement said physician-assisted suicide laws
provided excuses for denying medical care, and would be applied
as a substitute for palliative care. It said depressed patients
are prone to accepting the choice of suicide.
Assisted suicide laws were enacted in 1997 in Oregon and
more recently in Washington state and Montana. Some 600
patients, most of them in Oregon, have opted to take fatal
doses of medication prescribed for them by doctors.
(Writing by Andrew Stern. Editing by Peter Bohan)
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