Experts Question U.S. Catholic Priest Abuse Policy

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The U.S. Catholic Church‘s “zero tolerance” on sexual abuse by priests could pose a danger to society because it could deter some clerics from seeking help, medical experts said in a study Monday.

The “zero tolerance” charter was adopted by the Catholic Church in the United States after a crisis sparked by revelations of sexual abuse by priests exploded in 2002.

The study, commissioned by the Vatican, said the U.S. policy, aimed at dealing with abuse allegations and preventing further cases, could deter sex offenders from seeking and receiving treatment and leave them without supervision.

“Zero tolerance” was too reactionary, the study concluded.

“The experts come from different perspectives and have different opinions, but on the topic (of ‘zero tolerance’) they were agreed that it was a problematic principle,” said Manfred Luetz, a German psychiatrist and editor of the study, which was presented to journalists.

The scandal started with revelations about a cover-up of sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Boston that eventually led to the resignation of Archbishop Bernard Law.

Law was accused of failing to act on evidence that priests were abusing children. Rather, the church covered up the facts and allowed offenders to be transferred to new parishes, where they continued to victimize children.

The experts said offenders and potential offenders needed to be treated rather than cast out of the Church and urged the Vatican to work more closely with scientific experts in areas like screening and therapy.

“Removing clergy sex offenders from ministry does not protect children from the risk of sexual abuse because the offender is now in society without supervision,” wrote Jorg Fegert, a child psychiatrist.

The 220-page book also talks about the effects of abuse on children and how to use screening of clergy for sexual and personality disorders and substance abuse — which can be characteristics of pedophiles — to prevent abuse.

The study is a collection of essays by non-Catholic psychiatrists, therapists and psychologists from a symposium at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life in April 2003.

The book was distributed days before a key study on the causes and costs of five decades of sexual abuse by priests was due to be released in the United States.

According to a report by CNN, a draft of the national report said that roughly four percent of U.S. clergy who have served since 1950 have been accused of abuse.

The book argues that offenders have to face the law, but that the Church could still help prevent abuse by providing therapy and supervision in jobs away from children for potential offenders and people released from prison.

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