Bishop Helping Draft Rules Says Alleged Abuse Must Be Reported Quickly

A new sex abuse policy governing U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses should include immediately notifying law officers of abuse allegations, said Bishop Joseph Galante, who will help draft rules regarding abuse of minors.

"What we are talking about is a crime," said Galante, coadjutor of the Dallas Diocese. "Crimes should be reported to the appropriate authorities."

In an interview with The Associated Press, Galante outlined issues for next month's Dallas meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Galante is on a panel that will recommend standardization of rules dictating how American bishops respond to misconduct claims.

While many bishops support a policy of not reassigning to parish duty any priest who has abused a minor, a more contentious issue will be whether past abusers should be expelled, Galante said.

Some believe the church should not dismiss one-time offenders whose abuse occurred decades ago and who haven't been accused again.

The bishops also will consider creating a national databank of priests who abused children, in order to study sexual abuse in dioceses and seminaries; along with forming a national council of clergy, overseen by a commission of lay people, to review how dioceses respond to abuse claims.

A draft of the new policy is expected to be made public June 4, Galante said. The Dallas conference starts June 13 and will include input from abuse victims.

"There will be an acknowledgment of our mistakes and sorrow for that," Galante said. "There has been so much suffering on the part of victims and families and that suffering was inflicted by people who are supposed to offer comfort and light and peace and healing."

The bishop said that while he believes abuse against minors is not more prevalent among priests than in society in general, "it seems more heinous when committed from within the church," he said. "It is seen as a terrible breach of trust."

Galante said that if he was the only bishop to decide, he would defrock all priests proved of abuse. He also would speed up removal of errant priests.

"Anybody who's a true pedophile, you don't even think about allowing to be in the ministry or going back in the ministry," he said.

In 1992, the conference developed guidelines on responding to abuse claims, but each diocese is autonomous and compliance is voluntary. The bishops need Vatican approval to implement a binding national policy.

The proposed rules would help rebuild the trust of parishioners, said Kelly Beuchler, past president of the parents association at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Dallas.

"We agree absolutely that the safety of the children is absolutely critical," Beuchler said. "It's something which cannot be compromised."

But he warned that investigations need to be thorough to screen out unfounded claims.

"There needs to be a great deal of care taken because if an allegation turns out to be false, there can be tremendous damage to the individual," Beuchler said.