Commission Calls For 'One-Strike' Policy

CLEVELAND (AP) - A commission established to review the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland's policy on sexual abuse wants a "one-strike" policy in which a priest would be removed immediately if an abuse allegation is made.

The 22-member commission released an 18-page report Friday that calls for the more stringent policy, which was endorsed by the U.S. council of Bishops in Dallas in June.

The only way the accused would be permitted to return to ministry would be if an investigation exonerates him.

"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 the ministry," the report suggests.

Bishop Anthony Pilla thanked the commission in a written response and explained the process for the recommendations to become policy.

"All suggestions received during the review process will be considered and then a final document will be prepared," Pilla said.

The commission will meet in each district of the eight-county diocese from Aug. 26 to Sept. 5 to gather advice from parishioners and clergy before preparing a final report for the bishop.

If Pilla approves it, the new policy would replace a one-page policy regarding child sex abuse in effect in the Cleveland diocese for a decade.

"This is the bishop's policy," said commission leader William Denihan, the former director of the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services. "He may agree or disagree with our viewpoint. We hope he agrees with the substantive matters of the report. I'm confident he will."

The policy also needs approval from the U.S. Council of Bishops and the Vatican.

Other recommendations from the commission:

  • Report all cases of alleged or suspected child abuse to police or child services agencies, then the bishop's office.
  • Maintain a register of priests and diocesan employees who have abused children.
  • End confidential court settlements, except at the victim's request.
  • Respond to allegations of sexual abuse in a pastoral, supportive manner without judging the truth of the complaint.
  • Establish a response team to handle needs of alleged victims, the accused priest and churchgoers.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)