A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


CDF asks bishops to prepare guidelines for responding to abuse allegations.

Today the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a "circular letter" to bishops conferences worldwideasking them to develop guidelines for responding to abuse allegations. The letter is intended to help bishops formulate these guidelines--the letter itself doesn't contain new rules. Although, according to Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the CDF,the guidelines should involve the major superiors of religious institutes, to make sure both diocesan and religious priests are covered. (Bishops lack the canonical authority to suspend religious priests--an issue that has caused a great deal of confusion in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.) Bishops are to send the new rules to the CDF by May 2012.Here's what the CDF is asking bishops to keep in mind while writing their guidelines.

The letter begins where it should, with the victims. It stresses the example of Benedict XVI, who made himself available to meet with abuse victims during his recent apostolic trips. The bishop "should be prepared to listen to the victims and their families, and to be committed to their spiritual and psychological assistance." The CDF also notes the value of safe-environment programs, which "have often been seen as models in the commitment to eliminate cases of sexual abuse of minors in society today."Next the letter addresses the formation of priests. Without mentioning the so-called ban on men with "deep seated" homosexual tendencies from the priesthood--the CDF reminds the bishops that candidates "should be formed in an appreciation of chastity and celibacy, and the responsibility of the cleric for spiritual fatherhood." Bishops should treat their priests as fathers and brothers. They must ensure that their priests' formation doesn't end after ordination. For example, priests "are to be well informed of the damage done to victims of clerical sexual abuse."What's more, the CDF emphasizes the importance of sharing information about candidates who move around during formation--whether from one seminary to another, one diocese to another, or one religious community to another.Of course, the CDF also points out what canon and civil law has always held: the accused is "presumed innocent until the contrary is proven." Bishops should do whatever it takes to rehabilitate the reputation of a falsely accused priest. Yet, "the bishop is always able to limit the exercise of the clerics ministry until the accusations are clarified." That's something too many bishops have either forgotten or ignored throughout the scandal.While recognizing that "relations with civil authority will differ in various countries"--an important consideration --theletter urges bishops to cooperate with civil authorities, especially when it comes to following reporting laws. And not just when it comes to allegations against priests.The second part of the letter summarizes the relevant canon laws. Nothing surprising there. In 2001, John Paul II made the sexual abuse of a minor by a priest a grave canonical crime. At that time, the statute of limitation for such a crime was extended to ten years from the victim's eighteenth birthday. In 2010, Benedict XVI extended the statute to twenty years from the victim's eighteenth birthday. The CDF has jurisdiction over such cases, and is free to ignore the statute of limitation on a case-by-case basis.Once the bishop deems an accusation credible, he must refer the case to the CDF, which will then offer guidance on dealing with the accused. The letter also points out that "it remains the duty of the Bishop or the Major Superior to provide for the common good by determining what precautionary measures of CIC can. 1722 and CCEO can. 1473 should be imposed. In accord with SST art. 19, this can be done once the preliminary investigation has been initiated." That means that once an investigation has been initiated--which could mean as little as a bishop forwarding the case to his review board--he has the authority to suspend a (diocesan) priest. That's also something too many bishops have gotten wrong.Finally, the letter ends with a list of recommendations. Here they are:

a.) the notion of "sexual abuse of minors" should concur with the definition of article 6 of the motu proprio SST ("the delict against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue committed by a cleric with a minor below the age of eighteen years"), as well as with the interpretation and jurisprudence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while taking into account the civil law of the respective country;b.) the person who reports the delict ought to be treated with respect. In the cases where sexual abuse is connected with another delict against the dignity of the sacrament of Penance (SST art. 4), the one reporting has the right to request that his or her name not be made known to the priest denounced (SST art. 24).;c.) ecclesiastical authority should commit itself to offering spiritual and psychological assistance to the victims.d.) investigation of accusations is to be done with due respect for the principle of privacy and the good name of the persons involved;e.) unless there are serious contrary indications, even in the course of the preliminary investigation, the accused cleric should be informed of the accusation, and given the opportunity to respond to it.f.) consultative bodies of review and discernment concerning individual cases, foreseen in some places, cannot substitute for the discernment and potestas regiminis of individual bishops;g.) the Guidelines are to make allowance for the legislation of the country where the Conference is located, in particular regarding what pertains to the obligation of notifying civil authorities;h.) during the course of the disciplinary or penal process the accused cleric should always be afforded a just and fit sustenance;i.) the return of a cleric to public ministry is excluded if such ministry is a danger for minors or a cause of scandal for the community.

These are sound recommendations. The victims come first and last. Bishops are urged to listen to victims. To train their priests to understand the terrible effects of sexual abuse. Bishops are reminded of their duties under canon law--as well as their freedom to suspend accused priests before a final determination has been made. Priests can't be returned to public ministry if they pose a threat to minors--or if their reinstatement would scandalize the community. Is 2011 a bit late for Rome to be issuing such guidance? Without a doubt. A letter like this should have gone out under John Paul II. But we have the letter now, and the delay doesn't make it any less important for the bishops of the world to heed.Much has been made of the sentence pointing out that consultative review boards cannot substitute for the discernment and ruling power (potestas regiminis)of the bishop. While it's true that some bishops have treated their review boards as little more than window dressing, it is simply a statement of canonical fact that such bodies cannot replace the role of the bishop. That need not be read as a criticism of review boards. Rather, that sentence--along with the whole letter--may be viewed as an attempt to get bishops to do their job.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Does anyone have any news regarding the status of the allegations made (back around Ash Wednesday) against Father John Corapi?

Mucho coverage of this already: see Austen's two posts over at America with the full text and exigesis.Major problems include "just guidelines", no penalties for non cooperative bishops, and the notion that it really falls to the local ordinary (not a review board) to decide.What's important is the Bishop's discretion and its protection.As much as I admire Fr. O'Connell from Wisconsin in another thread, he speaks out of the same canonical approach that is deadly. The current governane structures and its failures are deeply tied to the legalisms operative to deal with real matters of sexual abuse (and not only of minors, i would add.) Is this an improvement? I'll let you argue here, but IMO it's hardly a solution, despite the buildup.

More pie in the sky. All the power (the investigation and decision-making elements) is in the hands of individual bishops. There is nothing here that would change the action or inaction of a non-complying bishop. So what if canon law says that a bishop cannot be forced to do x, y, or z in his own diocese. Change the canon law.If the CDF/Pope doesn't want the laity deciding what are now matters reserved to the bishops, then set up structures of bishops who would "try", to speak legalese, their fellow bishops. Judgment by peers. The laity would have the right to appeal to such hopefully independent hierarchical structures. (I say only hopefully.) In other words, have the review board(s) composed of bishops. (And friends of accused bishops should be disqualified from any given panel.) If a review board of bishops doesn't do their duty, let the accuser appeal to Rome. Sure, the buck always stops at Rome. But what can you do?There could also be non-voting lay members of those review boards with the right to challenge all the actions/non-actions of the boards. This would solve some of the transparency problems. There is nothing in theology that says the laity can't observe the bishops in action (or inaction).Would this impose some heavy duties on the bishops? Yes. But the reason the new duties would be so time-consuming is their own fault -- there's a backlog of dereliction that needs remedying.

Addendum: Maybe there should be two kinds of bishop review boards -- one kind for investigating allegations of abuse, and one kind for reviewing the actions/inactions of enabling bishops and censuring them. Or maybe there should be just the kind that deals with enabling bishops. Trials of enabling bishops by other bishops might go a long way to solve the still-continuing problem of bishops who cover-up crimes..

The CDF/Vatican is still trying to get 'the act together' after 25 years. Meanwhile we Catholic laity read/watch Strauss-Kahn, the IMF chief and future president of France, being de-planed and cuffed in hours... Must we endure years more of these most boring recitals of canon law?

Does the US Conference of Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Young People, in its current state, conform to these guidelines?

IMHO, Jim P, they do.What has changed is what is included in the "universal law of the church" the Charter references. Vatican norms of what constitutes sexual abuse now (finally) include child pornography and abuse of mentally handicapped adults (Revised SST as of May 2010). Those may have been subsumed before under the catechism, moral theology precepts, and all the arcane references to church this and that in the Charter, but it apparently didn't matter.Even now, a bishop is not penalized or ordered to cease any violations, as Jim Connell's research shows so powerfully. The standard for review of allegations was and is "moral certitude" in the LaCrosse diocese, versus "semblance of truth" in canon law and CDF guidelines. Ray Burke, now chief justice of the church's supreme court started that practice when he was in LaCrosse, and got away with it completely; was even promoted. George as USCCB head did nothing, and so a bishop can unilaterally do what he wants.Where are the "instructions" versus guidelines, much less the penalties, and cease and desist orders? Bishop accountability is in fact a cruel joke.

So now that these guidelines from the Pope have been handed down to all Bishops:--Will they report accusations against a predator priest to law enforcement now?--Will Bishops remove those accused priest from ministry now?--Will they remove ALL priests from ministry who have been accused of sexually abusing a child now ?--Will all Bishops treat a victim who is reporting or has reported their abuse with respect, and stop ignoring them and making them feel re-abused and take the Pope's advice to contact law enforcement and remove priest, employees, or religious from ministry now?If these church officials do what the Pope is suggesting, then we should be seeing an immediate surge of Bishops removing accused clergy and making those names public.Victims and concerned Catholics are waiting.....Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, [email protected]"Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests"

Many, if not most, of the Boston crew were PROMOTED after the scandal broke, or, if they'd already been promoted to their own dioceses, no penalties of any kind were assessed. The message is clear--cover up pedophiles, and get promoted, and nothing bad will ever happen. Any Roman rumblings on Rigali? George? Any of the post-Dallas charter bishops (or their auxiliaries) who covered up? Any action against the Irish bishops, unless they tendered resignations on their own? I thought not. But hey, it's not like they did anything really serious like suggest that women can exercise priestly ministry. Priorities, priorities...Barring bishop accountability, it's hard for me to see why any career-minded cleric would pay more than lip service to the new rules. Lip service is important, but like love, justice must be manifested more in deeds than in words.

Cardinal Levada's letter once more suggests that Rome still wishes to treat the problem of sexual abuse as an isolated problem, susceptible of an isolated solution, without looking at the bigger picture. . The right kind of local regulations, in short, will ensure that children are safe, and thus the problem goes away. Austen Ivereigh, in America, sees the first paragraph as a rebuttal of what he calls the "clericalist mentality" which puts the protection of the institution and priests first. Perhaps he's right, but the rebuttal certainly is not obvious to me. Nowhere, either in this document, or in any other (that I've seen) coming from Rome is there any effort to understand the problem and to look for its sources in anything other than the individual human sinfulness of individual priests (needless to say, the role of bishops as facilitators and protectors of such sinfulness is not even hinted at). Granted, there have been efforts to place the blame on homosexuality, on permissiveness engendered by faulty readings of Vatican II, on the media, and even (inevitably) on the Jews, but these of course are not worthy of serious consideration.I'm sure that Rome and the bishops do not lack the intelligence to seek the broader roots of the problem, but they apparently they, with only a small handful of exceptions, lack the will and the moral courage to do so. As a start, should there not be at least an honest and open examination of the question of whether the structures of Church governance themselves bear any responsibility for the crises of abuse throughout the world? Have these structures allowed, even encouraged, the sin of abuse to be protected, and thus proliferate? Have they encouraged the growth of the "clericalist mentality" that allows the abuse all too often to go unpunished? And -- in a connected question -- do these structures, and the statements of Church leaders have anything to do with the huge losses in Church membership that are evident, particularly in Europe, but also in this country? Seeking to protect children is, of course, a necessary and a laudable goal. But failing to ask why children are endangered in the first place, and why the perpetrators all too often went unpunished and had their sins covered up, almost guarantees that there will be outbreaks in the future. It's a little bit like dealing with a hospital, say, that has a higher than normal infection rate among its patients. You can go after the cleaning staff to make sure that more dust is swept out of the rooms; but if doctors and nurses still fail to wash their hands as they make the rounds of their patients, and a culture that tolerates shortcomings continues, the problem will remain and indeed get worse. PS I have no idea whether Strauss-Kahn of the IMF was guilty of sexual abuse, and I certainly hope he is not. But the rapid response of the NYPD when the charge was made might serve as an object lesson to us.

Nick,I agree with you about the first paragraph of the letter. It's a committee document--with all the attendant shortcomings. As for the several sources of the problem, look for the USCCB to release the "Causes and Contexts" study, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, later this week.

We might consider that Jesus would have told the story/lesson of the Good Samaritan differently if he had known about Canon Law. The Samaritan would have to consult with his bishop if any intervention was allowed. The Samaritan would have to get liability insurance. What if he sued? Everyone knows that you cannot use Church property without liability insurance. And what a scandal the S was committing by mingling with an apostate. In fact the whole story of the Samaritan is falsely generated because although CL will define what meat or heresy is it does not define neighbor. I guess this is why the hierarchy has generally ignored the lesson of the Good Samaritan (or the beatitudes) because it breaks all the rules. So we should all be thankful that Rome is sending us more Canon Law guidelines because we might be foolish enough to think or believe that doing good for children was certainly a priority.

Good post, Nick. But you should know that the real reason for the decline of membership in Europe and here is the lack of the Latin Mass. Happily, some of that decline will be curtailed by the new translation coming soon.

"Even now, a bishop is not penalized or ordered to cease any violations, as Jim Connells research shows so powerfully. The standard for review of allegations was and is moral certitude in the LaCrosse diocese, versus semblance of truth in canon law and CDF guidelines. Ray Burke, now chief justice of the churchs supreme court started that practice when he was in LaCrosse, and got away with it completely; was even promoted. George as USCCB head did nothing, and so a bishop can unilaterally do what he wants."Hi, Carolyn, in my opinion, the anomalous standard in LaCrosse would be a violation of these Vatican guidelines - as it seems to be a violation already of the Dallas Charter, which I understand comprises particular law in the United States. Even if Cardinal Burke was erroneous in devising that standard, he is no longer bishop of that diocese. But that diocese does have a bishop who is responsible for complying with particular law. That a predecessor did something wrong doesn't mean that the current occupant of the chair is bound to perpetuate it. Let these guidelines be an occasion for that bishop to correct this discrepancy.I am not an expert on church law, but I believe Cardinal George, when he was president of the national conference, and Archbishop Dolan for that matter, who is the president now, had/has no authority to force the bishop of LaCrosse to comply. The unilateral authority of national conferences is quite circumscribed. These Vatican guidelines are addressed, not primarily to national conferences, but to individual bishops, who still have primary responsibility for handling complaints of sexual abuse. As Grant points out, these guidelines are a call to individual episcopal responsibility.

Why Episcopal Conference"Guidelines" and not RULES? The proof is in the pudding, not the recipe.At least the "victims of sexual abuse" are higher up the food chain (1.a.) than is "support of priests" (1.d.) Maybe a proper sense of perspective is finally taking hold.And what about the Diocese of Lincoln and the various U.S. Eparchies who have ignored and are continuing to ignore the Dallas Charter? Where are the TEETH in this little Levada missive?

Ann points out a major systemic problem that renders all of this as so much eyewash. Until and unless the laity have a significant role in the investigation and prosecution of offenders, up to and including bishops, then there will continue to be a smoke and mirrors approach to way too much of what does, and more likely - does not, happen.Until transparency becomes a cardinal virtue of Catholicism I think that the rest of the world and a large portion of the Catholic world will not believe what they see or hear. There is way too much history of obfuscation, self-protection and flat out criminal behavior for most of the "People of God" to take that word of any member of the ecclesiastical structure at face value. This will continue to be a church of "us" and "them" until substantial changes happen and are seen to be happening.

As I said on the other thread, I don't see where there's any straight-up requirement for reporting. Saying there should be cooperation with local civil requirements isn't the same thing as saying allegations have to be reported.

More obsessing on the sexual abuse scandal. This is getting to be an almost narcissistic First World self-indulgence.American Catholics make up only 6% of the worldwide population of Catholics (and that includes American Catholics who do not actively practice their faith). More than 2/3 of all Catholics worldwide live in the Southern Hemisphere. Third World Catholics could not care less about the sexual abuse scandal. They have far more immediate concerns such as whether the worshipers at the mosque down the road will come again next Friday to burn down their church and kill them all. The vast majority of Catholics in the world are far more concerned with loss of members through starvation than they are loss of members because of hand-wringing about the sexual incontinence of decadent First World priests.Just a little perspective, please.

"Why Episcopal ConferenceGuidelines and not RULES?"I don't claim to know the thinking behind this, but want to remark that there some universal rules already, and it seems that this is an attempt to get conferences, and even more so individual bishops, to come up with local rules that complement what has been set forth in the universal docs. The process that seems to be envisioned is:* Episcopal conference enacts its version of the Charter for the Protection of Young People* Episcopal conference submits it to Rome* Rome gives it the recognitio* At that point, it becomes particular law for that country - i.e. binding rules, but rules that are tailored to that country's situation.In that sense, it seems to be an exercise in subsidiarity.

Jim P: this is NOT the issue aboutwhich the Vaticanes should all of a sudden "get religion" with respect to subsidiarity and local episcopal conferences! There should be some basic principles of action that are binding on all countries with optional "guidance" allowed once the basics are firmly in place.And what is the penalty for not abiding by the guidelines?

"Third World Catholics could not care less about the sexual abuse scandal."And your basis for this rather far-fetched claim is ???? Ask those nuns that NCR (the real one, not the faux Fox-like one) reported on a few years back whether or not THEY cared about being abused by priests who thought it would be a good way to avoid AIDS.Your statement sounds a wee bit patronizing to me!

The progressive Catholic obsession with the sexual abuse scandal is analogous to what those same progressives say about focusing on abortion as a single issue to the detriment of other social justice concerns. Not only is the sexual abuse scandal a mere tempest in a teapot in the 2,000 year context of the Church, but clinging to it so tightly when there are so many more important issues in the Church, especially in the Third World, is First World religious colonialism.

- repeat - Does anyone have any news regarding the status of the allegations made (back around Ash Wednesday) against Father John Corapi?

I wonder if caring so much about the sexual exploitation of young persons by clergy is a vaguely Protestant or American concern.

"I wonder if caring so much about the sexual exploitation of young persons by clergy is a vaguely Protestant or American concern."Of course all Catholics care, but the obsession of First World progressive Catholics to the exclusion of nearly everything else of far more immediate importance to rank and file Catholics, especially in the Third World, is really getting self-indulgent at this point.

Flanagan, You miss the point and morality. It is the coverup that is the issue. Though we pray for and admire our Third World friends who are facing martrydom and/or starvation, it is not as bad as neglecting children and favoring those in power over children. This crime and sin goes right up to the Vatican and continues. It is a fitting obsession. With your disinterest Law would still be in Boston and abuse would still be as rampant with its consequent cover-up. The abuse of First World Bishops has resulted in more Third World priests practicing in the First World than ever.

"Though we pray for and admire our Third World friends who are facing martrydom and/or starvation, it is not as bad as neglecting children and favoring those in power over children."ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? What sort of moral universe do you live in, buddy?

Since when is it either/or? Where's the evidence that progressives are (or any group is) ignoring issues facing the rest of the world's Catholics? Regardless, we also have no reason to believe sexual abuse IS NOT a problem in other parts of the world.

The Catholic church needs ANOTHER year after 60 years of rampant child rape to decide what any mother, father, or human being would have decided the first time they heard about child rape - do everything you can to put the offending priest in prison, and get help for the child. Catholic tolerance of child rape, cover-ups, and ignoring victims is incomprehensible. The current Catholic church doesn't practice the Catholic religion, and it will affect every future generation. Teenagers in the future will have typical temptation from peers, and their friends will show them about the Catholic church treatment of child rape (on their Iphones). What kid will be able to defend this church to their friends?

"Since when is it either/or? Wheres the evidence that progressives are (or any group is) ignoring issues facing the rest of the worlds Catholics?"Thanks, now you understand how passionate opponents of abortion feel when progressives slander them by saying such things as "they don't care for children AFTER they are born"."Ignoring issues" evidence? Perhaps quantified in the number of posts at progressive Catholic blogs such as here and at America which deal with the sexual abuse scandal versus issues that are of primary concern to Third World Catholics. I'm not saying such latter issues are never discussed, just that they are secondary (even tertiary) although - contra Bill Mazzella's absurd claim - they are far more critical to the daily lives of the majority of Catholics throughout the world. We really need to get beyond our Western egocentric Catholicism.

This is not a thread about abortion. Or about conservative Catholics vs. liberal ones. Thanks for the textbook concern trolling, P. Now take it elsewhere.

I find it amazing that anyone would think that any parent in any part of the world wouldn't treat the abuse of a child or theirs (no matter the age) as being of paramount concern.We in the West have the luxury of not having to worry about some of the other Third World problems, but does that mean that our dwelling on this scandal of and in the church is just "egocentric Western" Catholcism. I will admit that the increasing imposition of eurocentric disciplines, canon law, liturgical "norms" and priestly qualification are indeed "egocentric Western" Catholicsm - but I don't think that is what P Flanagan had in mind by his choice of that terminology.Chinese Rite scandal, anyone?

Pflan,I'm not willing to accept the assertion that the sex abuse scandal--which is both the abuse and the subsequent coverup--is a problem limited to the "First World," as you call it. I'll grant you that blog coverage quantitatively focuses more on the scandal than on other issues (I'd like to see more coverage of human trafficking, for example), but I don't agree that translates to the conclusion that progressives don't follow or care about other issues. (As for your opening sentence, please let's not get off on a tangent, but I have to say your analogy is crap. When some progressives say that, they are claiming the sincerity of the anti-abortion rhetoric is belied by specific policy positions regarding women and children that are inconsistent with rhetoric re abortion. For the analogy to hold, you'd have to demonstrate the values of those who are focusing on clerical sex abuse are inconsistently applied in their policy preferences on 3rd world issues. That's not the case. Regardless, that's not the point of this thread, so I'll leave it here.)

The Vatican call for Episcopal Conferences to prepare Guidelines for dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by clerics provides an opportunity for the Catholic bishops to begin repairing the loss of trust resulting from the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis and scandal. However, for the bishops to grasp this opportunity wisely, the Guidelines preparation process must embrace the reality of the crisis and scandal facing the Church today. Thus, I suggest the following points.I hope there is a preamble to the USCCB Guidelines that includes:1.A statement prepared by victims / survivors that describes the current status of the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis and scandal; and2.A statement prepared by the bishops that acknowledges the existing Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis and scandal, and that commits to finding and implementing a thorough resolution to the situation.Participants in preparing the USCCB Guidelines should include:1.Victims / survivors;2.Supporters of victims / survivors;3.Psychologists / counselors who are experienced in Catholic clergy sexual abuse matters; and4.Criminal justice personnel who are experienced in Catholic clergy sexual abuse matters.Preparation of the USCCB Guidelines should include:1.Solicit input from victims / survivors and their supporters;2.Solicit input from professionals who are experienced in Catholic clergy sexual abuse matters;3.Solicit input from Catholic parishioners and from the public at large; and4.Issue a draft of the USCCB Guidelines in a very broad way seeking comments and suggestions before finalizing the document by the end of May 2012.

I think that the guidelines would have done better focusing on the principles that underlay fair justice.What could the Vatican propose that would apply even in countries where Catholics are at risk of persecution? For those countries they have to propose some internal procedures.In civil law a judge must recuse himself if he is at risk of being biased. A bishop is obviously biased in favor of the priests of his diocese, with whom he is supposed to have, and often has, a close relationship. He is supposed to be like a father or like and brother to them. He is obviously unsuited to assessing any accusation against them. Laying that responsibility on his shoulders is not only dangerous but also unfair, even for the bishop. The Vatican seems blind to the fallibility of bishops, who after all are human too.Why couldn't they, at least, require that each national conference of bishops have one bishop to deal with all accusations except the ones in his own diocese, and another to deal with all accusations against priests in the first bishop's diocese? That would not deal with clericalism, but it would at least establish one layer of separation between the accused and the judge, which would be a first step. The diocesan level is too local. The Vatican level might be too global: the Vatican office in charge is too slow and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases to deal with, the Vatican is challenged by the impossibility of world-wide guidelines, it's ineffective. Given that civil law is a reference, isn't the national level more appropriate? National conferences of bishops are more likely to be in tune with the culture of their particular country and deal with sexual abuse by priests with the harshness or leniency that reflects the laws of their own country.Then the Vatican office could focus on more important matters, for example, on misconduct by bishops and on their mismanagement of accusations.

Fr. Jim, the USCCB would be wise to adopt your recommendations. I see that voting on revisions to the existing Charter is on the agenda for its June meeting. Does anyone have details on the proposed revisions?

First, thanks to Fr. Jim for underscoring the importance of the issue as opposed to PF's approach of what's the big deal.His suggestions on making rules would be good, but we're still into "guidelines" which individual bishops have to consider in their encapsulated canonical world of protecting themselves and their discretion.I have so little confidence in leadership under the present group that they will genuinely deal with the problem. The priority remains on the epsicopal/hierachical club (Law still reigning in Rome, Rigali unmoved in Philly etc.)Of course, I admit I also have little confidence in Rome, yes from the top down, on the Levada circular or the motu proprio on liturgy or much of what drifts forth from the dicastries there and then is explained it all to you by John Allen.Real issues affecting real people's lives are clear in Fr. Jim's proposals but these beaurocrats and their rules and regs have been and are far removed from that.

In the circular letter, these two sentences seem incompatible with objective fairness.The bishop has the duty to treat all his priests as father and brother.andThe responsibility for dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors belongs, in the first place, to Bishops or Major Superiors.--- unless the bishop who is in the first place responsible for dealing with the case is different from the bishop who is the father and brother of his priests.

"PFs approach of whats the big deal."I said no such thing. I implied only that CommonWeal's obsession with the sexual abuse scandal was relatively no big deal for the vast majority of Catholics who live in the Third World who are much more concerned with whether they will be massacred by Muslim rioters next Friday, or whether their fellow parishioners might die of starvation before next Sunday.

" (Law still reigning in Rome, Rigali unmoved in Philly etc.)"Bob N. --The hierarchs STILLl haven't caught on that those two enabler/criminals in those positions stink to high Heaven, that they are living symbols of everything wrong with the enabling hierarchy. Until those two are removed from their honored positions the rest of the hierarchy doesn't stand a snow ball's chance in Hell of inspiring any trust whatsoever in the Faithful. What is wrong with these bishops? How can they be so blind? Or is it just lack of guts that won't allow them to call for the removal of Law and Rigali?

Are the "vast majority of Catholics" in the Southern (and lower Northern) hemisphere really in such mortal danger? It's hard not to hear Third World Catholics being used as a rhetorical stick to beat First World Catholics with whom one disagrees on matters politic. Call it a hierarchy of needs. When one is no longer concerned about violence from without, one can attend to violence from within.

Sander Magister's "egocentric Western Catholic" approach to the matter:

Interesting article, JMac; noted the part where he says the downside of the move to centralization has been liability. Interesting in light of the Vatican's upcoming answer to civil suit document demands.

" I implied only that CommonWeals obsession with the sexual abuse scandal was relatively no big deal for the vast majority of Catholics who live in the Third World who are much more concerned with whether they will be massacred by Muslim rioters next Friday, or whether their fellow parishioners might die of starvation before next Sunday."Unfortunately, this isn't remotely true. One of the biggest issues faciing the Catholic Church in Africa and South America is the widespread open number of priestly concubines, children and concurrent sexual abuse of nuns. I know that some Catholics persist in engaging in egocentric Western Catholicism to aovid recongizing that clergy sexual abuse is pervasive throughout the Church.

If you won't discuss the subject of this post, P. Flanagan and his enablers, do not comment here.

If the success of the movement to reform the church is measured by counting prominent scalps, then istm that the only notable trophy in the US is Cardinal Law, and that was back in 2002 - quite a long time ago. That same year, the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was passed. Despite many subsequent efforts by victims' advocates and church reformers to whip up popular discontent, prominent churchmen have, by and large, weathered the storm. Even the cardinal who seems to have set the gold standard for presiding over a diocese that countenanced abuse on a wide scale resigned earlier this year, not because of popular outcry, but because he had reached retirement age. Arguably, had Cardinal Law been able to keep his priests in check, he might have held out in Boston until reaching age 75. I'm not aware of any public demonstrations of no-confidence by diocesan priests in any other diocese since then.Meanwhile, the aspect of the scandals that personally touches the core of active parishioners, those who donate money to parishes and volunteer for ministries, is the mandatory Protecting God's Children training to which they have been subjected. Whatever their effectiveness in truly protecting victims and potential victims (and I hope it is effective), the training programs are a powerful reinforcement to this key constituency of the message that the church is working to protect children.The bishops are issuing press releases that by some measures the problem is declining.

I thought the notion about how Bishops are accountable (including your own, Jim) is not a matter of "counting prominent scalps" but of justice.I still wonder to what extent matters of truth, justice and honesty matter to those in the clerical establishment

"Or is it just lack of guts that wont allow them to call for the removal of Law and Rigali?"Ann,the abject cowardice of the so-called leaders of our Church could not be exaggerated!

David Gibson in a recent link from a recent post wrote:That approach [in the CDF's letter to bishops] is not likely to convince a flock that has learned by hard experience to be skeptical of their bishops.Indeed, I think it's too late. Looking at the comments of the present post, I see that people are not taking it seriously. Some of us are ranting, some are picking their favorite weak point, some are making their own suggestions, but no one, no one is doing a serious in-depth analysis. Why not? Because it's too late. The Vatican and bishops have lost their credibility for dealing with the sexual abuse scandal. No one is taking them seriously on that subject. It's over.

Claire gets to the salient point.

"I thought the notion about how Bishops are accountable (including your own, Jim) is not a matter of counting prominent scalps but of justice."I thought so, too, Bob. But I'm not the one fulminating here, 'how come these guys are still in office?'

I guess, Jim, I didn't think that was"fulminating."What do you think justice demnads of our Bishops? Are repeated apologies enough???

Bob - the starting point is to tell the truth. Let's get to the square, and then we'll see where it lead us.

The main problem with the advisory letter is the ancient one: And who will guard the guardians?Just for startersRe: Consultative bodies of review and discernment concerning individual cases, foreseen in some places, cannot substitute for the discernment and potestas regiminis of individual bishopsThe guidelines continue to empower the bishops to do some things they have had the power to do before, but have not been inclined to do well, or in some cases, at all. They alone would still decide the credibility of accusations. In Philadelphia, the Review Board was not told by Rigali about some cases later found credible by civil authorities. In Chicago, Cardinal George ignored the advice of his Board to tragic effect. The guidelines presume the competence and prudence and good will and honesty and effectiveness of the Bishops without appropriate safeguards or oversight. A big mistake.Another problem is that the document seems to have been carefully crafted to protect the Bishops as much as possible and, while projecting concern with due process, to provide a way to ignore it when convenient. Consider:Unless there are serious contrary indications, before a case is referred to the CDF, the accused cleric should be informed of the accusation which has been made, and given the opportunity to respond to it. The prudence of the bishop will determine what information will be communicated to the accused in the course of the preliminary investigation. And who defines those" serious contrary conditions"? The prudent Bishop, no doubt. At first glance it might seem enlightened to state that the Guidelines are to make allowance for the legislation of the country where the Conference is located, in particular regarding what pertains to the obligation of notifying civil authorities but of course, if there are no such legal requirements, the Bishop is off the hook. And does making allowance mean anything like obeying? ( If this loophole was in fact created to deal with repressive regimes where the accused cannot expect justice, they might have said so in an honest and straightforward way. Its vagueness leaves it open to other uses.)

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment