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Catholics for a Free Choice Endorses Zero Tolerance in Cases of Clergy Sexual Misconduct

May 31, 2002


Catholics for a Free Choice President Frances Kissling issued the following statement today, May 31, 2002:

As we approach the June 13 meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, a number of issues regarding clergy sexual abuse of minors are being debated by both the bishops and Catholics working to end the abuse of children and to correct the lack of protection that has resulted from past practices and policies of church officials.  People of good faith can and will disagree on the best solutions.

There has been a wide spread call for “zero tolerance” towards priests who commit any act of sexual misconduct.  Some bishops in the US and throughout the world have already adopted such policies.  Catholics for a Free Choice urges that zero tolerance policies establish a clear, unequivocal bright line of protection for all minors.

That includes dismissal from the priesthood of any priest who commits sexual misconduct against a minor (eighteen or under).  This action should be taken either upon conviction by civil courts or credible proof of such an offense after investigation by appropriate lay-dominated committees within the church.  The norm for dismissal should not be limited to conviction by civil authorities; ordination is a matter of sacred trust within the Catholic community.  Serious moral violations of that trust must end the priesthood of even priests who are in every other way engaged in valuable work.  Jesus was clear: to harm a child should bring what some may consider a draconian price.

In the face of past misconduct by church authorities in applying a zero tolerance policy, such a policy adopted now must include the dismissal of priests, bishops or cardinals who abused a minor once or multiple times; today, yesterday or thirty years ago.

While insisting on an exemplary standard of conduct for priests in relation to behavior toward minors and allowing no exceptions from this standard, we accept that a priest who has sexually abused a child can be redeemed.  Priests dismissed because of sexual misconduct toward children can repent and even go on to do great and good things in their lives; they can regain our respect and even our trust.  But the priesthood must be reserved for those who have never abused children.

We urge all in the Catholic community to keep before them a vision of priesthood as a sacred, inviolable covenant with the people of God and especially with God’s children.