Cardinal George talks about the revisions made to the Dallas policy in the Washington Post. The major changes are: (1) The statute of limitations for when an accusation can be made has been returned to 10 years from the accuser’s 18th birthday, (2) accused priests cannot be permanently removed from ministry without a conviction by a tribunal, and (3) the definition of sexual abuse has been clarified.
I think the statute of limitations is a good idea, not because I think perverts should get away with it, but because the longer one waits to make the accusation, the harder it is to prove. Sexual abuse is already difficult to prove unless several people come forward independently or the guy admits it and waiting two decades only makes it harder. How many deceased or elderly priests have been falsely accused of alleged abuse decades ago in the current frenzy? We’ll never know.
The second change is just common sense. It’s wrong to permanently remove a guy from ministry without giving him a chance to prove his innocence. An accusation is not proof of guilt. Now that’s not to say that an accused priest shouldn’t be temporarily suspended or that a guilty priest (convicted or confessed) shouldn’t be permanently suspended. But innocent priests have rights too and as we’ve seen with the Foster case, they’re sometimes trampled in a rush to satisfy the accuser. Besides, they acknowledged that Rome will consider suspending these two rules on a case-by-case basis.
As for the definition of sexual abuse, Cardinal George said they’re basing it on the sixth commandment. That sounds kind of vague to me: “Thou shalt not comit adultery.” I would guess he means that it is based on the traditional interpretation of that commandment. Talking about sex is not abuse, but proposing it might be. Certainly any sexual contact, including sex short of intercourse, would be. But how about a pat on the bum? Depending on the circumstances and the intent, it could be innocent or not. That will still require judgment. I’ll have to wait and see what the actual wording is.
Oh, and you can expect the usual howls of protest by the usual suspects that the Church is harboring molesters, etc., etc.