Pope's sex abuse czar tempers remarks on bishop accountability, says fair hearing also needed



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VATICAN CITY — The head of Pope Francis' commission to fight clerical sex abuse is tempering his remarks about accountability for bishops accused of covering up for abusive priests, saying they deserve a fair hearing, too.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, archbishop of Boston, told "60 Minutes" news program last week that the Vatican must "urgently" address the situation of Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of failing to take action in response to abuse allegations.

In a comment posted Wednesday on thebostonpilot.com, the website of the archdiocesan newspaper of Boston, O'Malley said that while bishops must be held accountable, they must be spared "crowd-based condemnations."

"We need clear protocols that will replace the improvisation and inertia that has often been the response in these matters," he wrote. "Bishops also deserve due process that allows them to have an opportunity for a fair hearing."

His remarks reflected some concerns expressed by clerics that the Vatican in recent years has gone too far in ousting accused pedophile priests, and may go down the same path as it turns its attention to holding their bishops and superiors accountable.

For example, there have been private grumblings about new Vatican regulations on how bishops can resign — or be encouraged to resign — because of scandal.

The rules stop short of saying the pope can forcibly remove a bishop, but they say the Vatican may deem it necessary to initiate the process by asking a bishop to resign. Critics have noted that the new law doesn't provide any criteria for when the Vatican might step in, suggesting that arbitrary or ideological differences might now be used.

Popes have long been loath to remove bishops or intervene in local diocesan matters on both theological and practical grounds.

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