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Other views: Pope's words bring hope for a new, stronger church

Recent months have been filled with sorrow, anger and despair because of the deplorable actions of some of our clergy. However, with the leadership and encouraging words of Pope John Paul II, I am filled with hope for a new and stronger church.

Recent months have been filled with sorrow, anger and despair because of the deplorable actions of some of our clergy. However, with the leadership and encouraging words of Pope John Paul II, I am filled with hope for a new and stronger church.

Echoing the words of the Holy Father, there is no place in the priesthood, or in the Diocese of Fargo, for those who would harm the young. As I have stated previously, sexual misconduct by any clergyman, employee or volunteer of the diocese is gravely wrong and will not be tolerated.

We, the bishops of this region, have been in intense discussions about how to provide the best protection for our children and youth. We are committed to a strong, consistent policy in our region, one that will include laity. While the Diocese of Fargo has an effective policy in place regarding the sexual misconduct of clergy, that policy can only be made stronger when the U.S. bishops gather in Dallas in June to further discuss the protection of our children and young people.

However, in recent media reports, claims were made that our policy may have been relaxed following the Vatican summit. A clarification is in order. Many dioceses, including the Diocese of Fargo, have adopted a policy precluding employment for anyone -- clergyman, employee or volunteer -- who has abused a minor. This means that if a new, credible accusation of sexual abuse of a minor has been made, the accused is immediately removed from active ministry, pending the outcome of an investigation. Law enforcement authorities are notified and fully cooperated with, and victims are offered counseling assistance. If the accusation is established, the cleric, employee or volunteer will not be permitted to serve in this diocese in the future. This policy, which acts as a safeguard against further actions of abuse and the protection of children, was not changed by the Vatican summit.

What remains an open question is what further canonical penalty can be imposed on a priest and how quickly that penalty can be imposed, such as laicization (the complete dismissal from the priestly state). We hope the June meeting of the U.S. bishops will provide clarification on that issue.

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As bishop of Fargo, I would again state to everyone in our diocese that sexual misconduct by any clergyman or employee or volunteer of the diocese is gravely wrong and will not be tolerated. Nothing can diminish the pain caused by sexual abuse of a minor. Let all be assured that we will continue to take reasonable measures to protect all of our children and to help heal those hurt by abuse in the past.

Aquila is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo.

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