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Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People

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The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is a document adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the wake of the clerical abuse scandal that shook the Catholic Church in the United States in the beginning of the 21st century.

Background

The June 2002 meeting of the USCCB was unprecedented in that it had an exclusive focus: the adoption of a collective response to the spate of charges and admissions of sexual abuse by priests and bishops, many of them involving minors.

The meeting was also unusual because of the atmosphere created by the presence of media and victims, especially those from SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests).

In his opening address Bishop Wilton Gregory called the current situation “a very grave crisis, perhaps the gravest” the Catholic Church in the United States has ever faced. It is not about a lack of faith in God, he said, but “a profound loss of confidence by the faithful in our leadership as shepherds.” He confessed the bishops’ guilt: “Both ‘what we have done’ and ‘what we have failed to do’ contributed to the sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy and Church personnel.”[1]

The USCCB approved a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that pledged the Catholic Church in the U.S. to providing a "safe environment" for all children in Church-sponsored activities. To accomplish this, the U.S. bishops made a commitment to develop uniform procedures for handling sex-abuse allegations against lay teachers in Catholic schools, parish staff members, coaches and other people who represent the Church to young people.[2][3]

The thrust of the charter was the adoption of a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual abuse.[4][5]

Provisions of the Charter

Reporting of all allegations to the authorities

In the Charter, the bishops pledged to report to the police all allegations of sexual abuse of those who are still minors and support the right of those who are no longer minors to report such abuse (Article Four).

Removal of offenders from the ministry

The bishops determined that, for even a single admitted or proven act of sexual abuse of a minor, the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry (Article Five). No priest or deacon who has committed an act of sexual abuse of a minor may be transferred for ministerial assignment to another diocese/eparchy or religious province (Article 14). The Charter states that, “Where sexual abuse by a priest or a deacon is admitted or established after an appropriate investigation in accord with canon law...: Diocesan/eparchial policy will provide that for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor—past, present or future—the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry.” The bishop will suspend him and may initiate the laicization process, even without the priest’s consent.

National Office for Child and Youth Protection

The Charter calls for a national Office for Child and Youth Protection, assigning it three tasks:

  1. assisting dioceses and eparchies in implementing "safe-environment" programs for children and young people;
  2. assisting regional groupings of dioceses in auditing adherence to the Charter; and
  3. publishing an annual public report on implementing the Charter, noting any dioceses/eparchies considered not to be in compliance with "the provisions and expectations of this Charter."

National Review Board

The Charter also mandates a National Review Board to assist and monitor the Office for Child and Youth Protection and study the causes and context of the current crisis. In addition, the Charter calls for diocesan review boards to assist the local bishop in assessing allegations.

Assessment

John L. Allen, Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, characterized the reaction of the USCCB as calling for “swift, sure and final punishment for priests who are guilty of this kind of misconduct.” In contrast to this, Allen characterized the Vatican's primary concern as wanting to make sure “that everyone’s rights are respected, including the rights of accused clergy" and wanting to affirm that it is not acceptable to "remedy the injustice of sexual abuse with the injustice of railroading priests who may or may not be guilty.”[page needed]

References

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