Despite what you may have heard or read, the following is not happening at the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington this week:
* The lay review boards in every diocese are not being downgraded. They've always been advisory -- though no bishop in his right mind rejects their "advice." Even if more than a few bishops are not in their right minds, they will be clobbered by all the others if they mess this up.
* The bishops are not saying they do not have to report cases to the civil authorities. Quite the contrary, the suggested revisions underline this obligation.
* The bishops have not and will not give up the power to prevent an abusing priest permanently from doing ministerial work, no matter what may happen in the appellate process.
* There is no major rewriting of the document drawn up by the bishops this past June in Dallas, save in matters concerning due process for accused priests. Here, bizarrely enough, the Vatican is playing the role of the American Civil Liberties Union: It is protecting the right of one to be presumed innocent until proved guilty and thrown out of the priesthood.
* It is not true that offenders from the past will be excused because of a statute of limitations. A bishop can still prevent such a man from doing ministerial work. Moreover, if he wants to throw the man out of the priesthood, he can apply to Rome for permission to suspend the statute. Such permission usually is granted.
There is a complete lack of clarity in many news stories about the difference between ejecting a man from the priesthood, which requires due process, and banning him from priestly ministry, which does not.
How did all this confusion arise?....
......Here is the problem: The Vatican doesn't know what is going on in the U.S. The American bishops do, but they can't or won't explain it properly. So that leaves others to explain, and their motives are not to explain but to defame.