Catholic Priests Extend 'Zero Tolerance' Policy for Abusive Priests

U.S. Catholic Bishops overwhelmingly voted to extend rules that will bar sexually abusive priests from public church ministry work.

The 229-3 vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Thursday meant that the rules adopted in 2002 at the height of the clergy sex abuse scandals will continue.

Chicago Cardinal Francis George, who reviewed the policy with the Vatican said that the policy was necessary to restore trust in the church leadership.

"Our real convictions come from the failure of oversight of priests by bishops in the past, and the concern of parents and the protection of children," he said, according to the Associated Press.

In the years since the abuses cases became widespread knowledge around the nation, the U.S. Roman Catholic Church has been besieged by financial and moral attacks by many of its members, in addition to outside criticism. They claimed that the church had been moving abusive priests to parishes where they were not known, and where they could repeat the same offenses.

Along with the policy extension, the bishops also voted 228-4 to commission a study that would analyze the roots and context of the abuses.

"We have been through an extraordinarily difficult time in the history of our church," said Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles.

The study will cost $1 million to be paid for by an endowment controlled by the Conference, according to Reuters. The bishops said the study was not meant to assign blame but to look at the culture of the church that allowed the abuse to take begin.

A group called the Survivors network of those Abused by Priests said that the bishops could not be trusted to enforce their own plan, saying it is inadequate.

In a statement by the President of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Barbara Blaine, 49, an abuse victim writes that the the "zero tolerance" guidelines are vague, weak and don't have a "real enforcement mechanism."

Cardinal George said that those charging that the plan is weak "should talk to the priests who have been affected by this."

A previous study by the bishops found that more than 11,500 molestation claims had been made since 1950. Over $1 billion has been spent by the Catholic church during that time.

Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland said that the bishops should leave the meeting with "a clear, clear message that we continue to be concerned about the protection and safety of children."