In slightly more than three months, all Catholic dioceses in the United States must have in place blueprints to create "safe environment" programs to protect children from sexual abuse.
The nation's 194 dioceses have until June 20 to finalize their plans on how to protect children, educate parents and investigate church workers with access to children, including priests.
A comprehensive plan must be in place by the beginning of the 2003-04 school year, according to a directive from the Office of Child and Youth Protection, which was established in June by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
All church employees with access to children must sign a written code of conduct and undergo training about children and abuse, including how to prevent, detect, respond to and report suspected abuse.
The guidelines also mandate "background investigations of personnel who have regular contact with minors ... by a reputable professional agency, law enforcement or social service agency."
Bishops probably will revisit their new abuse policies when they hold their semiannual meeting in June in St. Louis. Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops conference, told them to expect a church-wide audit of abuse policies, including a preliminary report in early June on the scandal's cost and scope, and another study on the causes of the abuse crisis.