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Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, commonly known as Essential Norms, is a particular law for the bishops of the United States, adopted at a June 2002 conference by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in order to prevent future cases of clerical child abuse.
June 2002 adoption
These norms were adopted to ensure that each diocese/eparchy in the United States had procedures in place to respond promptly to allegations of sexual abuse of minors. They were revised by the USCCB in November 2002 to incorporate changes proposed by a commission of four bishops from the Holy See and four bishops from the United States which met in Rome in October 2002.
December 2002 approval
Having received the recognition of the Apostolic See on December 8, 2002, and having been legitimately promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on December 12, 2002, these norms constitute particular law for all the dioceses/eparchies of the United States effective March 1, 2003.
Status in canon law
The legal norms are complementary to the universal law of the Church, which has traditionally considered the abuse of minors a grave delict and punishes the offender with penalties, not excluding laicization if the case so warrants.
A study conducted by CARA in 2007 found that, although many Catholics are unaware of the specific steps that the church as taken, when informed of them, large majorities approve these actions. 78 percent strongly approved of reporting allegations of sexual abuse by clergy to civil authorities and cooperating in civil investigations. 76 percent strongly approved of removing from ministry people credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.
Crisis not yet over in 2005
In February 2005, Dr. Kathleen McChesney, former director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, said that the crisis was not yet over because hundreds of victims across the country were still reporting past episodes of abuse, stating that "In 2004, at least 1,092 allegations of sexual abuse were made against at least 756 catholic priests and deacons in the United States. Most of the alleged incidents occurred between 1965 and 1974." She added: "What is over is the denial that this problem exists, and what is over is the reluctance of the church to deal openly with the public about the nature and extent of the problem."
- Essential Norms — USSCB website, with current version, comparison of 2002 and 2006 versions and link to Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that promlugates the Essential Norms