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Vatican leaning toward OK
of experimental application of U.S. norms

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

The Vatican is leaning toward approval of an experimental application of the U.S. bishops' norms on clerical sex abuse, perhaps after some clarifying language is added, a senior Vatican official said.

"This would not be a rejection by the Vatican, nor would it be a formal `recognitio' of the norms," the official said Sept. 23. Instead, the Vatican would allow the norms to be applied "ad experimentum" -- the Latin phrase signifying temporary or provisional use.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, emphasized that a final decision had not yet been made, and the Vatican response had still not been written.

But he said the "prevailing sentiment" was to recognize that the norms were formulated by U.S. bishops as an experimental initiative -- to be evaluated after a two-year period. Therefore, the Vatican would respond with a conditional form of approval.

The solution, if adopted, appeared to represent a compromise. On one hand, U.S. bishops would be allowed to follow the norms they overwhelmingly approved in Dallas last June. On the other, the Vatican would not be officially recognizing the norms as a "particular law."

Many church legal experts at the Vatican and elsewhere have voiced criticism of the norms, saying they would not allow priests to effectively defend themselves from accusations. Among other things, the norms call for relieving a priest from his church ministry when a "credible accusation" of sex abuse against a minor is received.

The delicate internal discussion on the norms, involving five Vatican agencies, was still continuing in late September. A draft of the final response was expected to be reviewed by Pope John Paul II in early October, Vatican sources said.

Sometime before the middle of October, the response -- probably in the form of a letter -- was expected to go out to the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., the sources said.