<<< Click the tabs to learn more about how the Church sex abuse scandal gained attention and what the Catholic Church is doing about it.
Q: HOW LONG HAVE SUCH SEX ABUSE SCANDALS OCCURRED?
A: The first to receive national attention occurred in 1985, when the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe of Lafayette, La., pleaded guilty to abusing 11 boys and admitted to molesting dozens. He served 10 years of a 20-year sentence. Eventually, 20 local clergy faced accusations and the diocese reached out-of-court settlements with 22 or more victims.
Q: IS THIS JUST AN AMERICAN PROBLEM?
A: No. Scandals also have hit Canada, Britain, Ireland, Argentina, Austria, the Philippines and even the pope's native Poland, where Archbishop Juliusz Paetz resigned amid allegations he had sexually harassed several priests. Paetz denied the allegations.
Q: WHAT HAS THE UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS DONE?
In October 2002, the Vatican rejected a proposal by the U.S. bishops on how to punish sexually abusive priests. The Holy See said the rules, which were drafted at a June conference in Dallas, Texas, were inadequate, confusing and legally ambiguous.
A revised draft was approved by the U.S. bishops about a month later. Pending final approval from the Vatican, the policy allows bishops to conduct a confidential, preliminary inquiry when a molestation claim is made to determine whether it is plausible. If it is, the accused priest is to be put on leave, then must go before a clerical tribunal to determine his guilt or innocence.
Q: WHAT IS THE VATICAN POLICY ON HANDLING ABUSE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST PRIESTS?
The Vatican has its own tribunals, with specific and often slow-moving procedures involving appeals and review boards. Defrocking involves cumbersome appeals, and U.S. bishops asked Rome to streamline the process for years. Guidelines that were issued quietly in 2001 direct bishops to swiftly inform Rome in order to centralize control of such cases and keep matters secret. Vatican officials deny this is meant to keep civil prosecutors out of the process, saying local laws apply. However, each bishop who heads a diocese independently handles discipline for local priests. Up until the wave of scandals broke, practices varied from diocese to diocese.
In dealing with the abuse, some at the Vatican have been concerned that bishops, eager to show their flock that they are vigilant, will take innocent priests away from parish work. A second concern is that U.S. churchmen might act hastily in handling cases of accusations. The Vatican is also drafting a document that could ban homosexuals from the priesthood.
Q: WHAT HAS POPE JOHN PAUL II HAD TO SAY ABOUT SEX ABUSE SCANDALS IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH?
A: Pope John Paul II spoke publicly for the first time about the scandals in July 2002. He told a crowd of over 800,000 at a World Youth Day Mass that, "the harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame." However, he firmly continued, "think of the vast majority of dedicated priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good."
Q: WHAT IF PRIESTS ARE WRONGLY ACCUSED?
A: That's always a possibility, as with the false charge against the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. Besides protections in civil law, the church's canon law system provides defense procedures for accused priests. Since local canon lawyers work for the accused priest's bishop, the San Diego-based Justice for Priests and Deacons offers outside counsel.
Sources: CBS News; AP