VATICAN CITY – The Vatican is leaning toward accepting the U.S. bishops' plan to eradicate sex abuse among clergy on an experimental basis, a senior Vatican official said Monday.
"It would not receive formal Vatican approval, but nor would it be a rejection," said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The plan has been under study since adopted in June at a Dallas meeting of American bishops and the Vatican is expected to issue its response Oct. 10 or Oct. 11, the official said.
The Vatican's response has not yet been completed and some clarifications could be sought, but the idea is to allow the bishops to go ahead as an experiment, the official said, putting the Vatican view of the U.S. bishops' action in a positive light.
The idea seems to be a compromise in view of reports that some in Vatican were objecting to some of the plan as failing to take into account the rights of priests accused of sexual abuse.
There had been growing concern that the Vatican would outright reject the policy, after complaints from U.S. church lawyers, many priests and some officials in the Vatican that the plan failed to protect the rights of accused clergy.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church," said the Vatican official's statement indicates the Holy See supports the approach U.S. church leaders are taking to ease the crisis.
"I think it shows that the bishops were correct in their evaluation, that despite all the voices in the Vatican that raised questions about the (policy), the bishops knew there was only one voice they had to be concerned about and that was the pope's, and it looks like the pope is going to back the bishops," Reese said.
While the bishops did not present their proposal as an experiment, they did say that the plan would be reviewed two years after Vatican approval was received.
Since reports of sexual abuse among clergy began rocking the American Church in January, at least 300 priests have been removed from their ministries.
The provisions which the U.S. bishops are seeking approval for include requiring bishops to report abuse of minors to civil authorities. The Vatican traditionally allows local bishops much autonomy in handling many matters in their diocese.
The U.S. bishops agreed to remove all guilty priests from church work, and, in some instances, from the priesthood itself.
While the U.S. bishops' guidelines were aimed with coming up with an across-the-board approach in handling abuse scandals, the church in the United States is itself divided over policy.
Last month, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which represents religious orders that represent about one-third of the 46,000 U.S. priests, decided to allow most abusers to continue in church work, away from parishioners.