By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Catholic bishops Nov. 13 overwhelmingly approved revised norms to deal with removal from ministry of any priest or deacon who has sexually abused a minor.
By a vote of 246-7 they adopted the new document, worked out two weeks earlier at a Vatican meeting. Shortly afterward, the bishops overwhelmingly approved revisions to the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” originally adopted at their June meeting in Dallas, to bring the charter into accord with the revisions of the norms.
Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, who led a two-hour discussion of the new norms, stressed that the revisions worked out in Rome by four U.S. bishops and four top Vatican officials strengthened the earlier version the bishops had adopted in Dallas along with the charter.
The new document keeps in place the victim assistance ministry, review boards and cooperation with civil authorities contained in the original norms, he said. The major change, he said, was to add the use of church trials, along with the administrative actions a bishop could take, to remove an offending priest from ministry.
The new norms offer the possibility of lifting the statute of limitations on a case-by case basis for those cases otherwise too old to prosecute. Cardinal George expressed the belief that the large majority of existing cases of child sex abuse by priests fall into that category.
In the debate on the revised norms, bishop after bishop stood to praise the revisions as a refinement and strengthening of what the bishops had done in Dallas.
At the end of the debate on the revised charter, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles urged the canonical affairs committee of the bishops’ conference to study a proposal to ask Rome to change general church law so that sexual abuse of a minor would be an “irregularity” in law, barring the offender from being ordained or, if already ordained, barring him from ministry.
Bishop Thomas G. Doran of Rockford, Ill., said if such a recommendation is sent to the Holy See, it should come from the whole body of bishops. The proposal was referred to the canonical affairs committee for study.
That committee was also asked to study the possibility of developing step-by-step model processes and document forms to help bishops, especially in smaller dioceses, handle the appropriate legal processes in accord with the requirements of church law.
Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger of Evansville, Ind., referred to the case of a priest who abused a minor many years ago but is widely recognized as fully repentant and reformed. He said he removed that priest after the Dallas meeting but continued to hope that there could be a means of reinstating him. Without that possibility, he said, he had to oppose the norms.
Cardinal George said that possibility does not exist. “I think we are committed since Dallas to removal from ministry in every one of these cases,” he said.
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn, N.Y., repeated concerns he had expressed in Dallas that the charter and norms drive a wedge between a bishop and his priests.
Archbishop Stefan Soroka of the Ukrainian Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia strongly urged that where the canons of the Code of Canon Law are cited in the norms the parallel canons in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches should be cited as well, since the Eastern Catholic churches of the United States are also governed by the norms.
Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., said that process was under way and before the norms are sent to Rome the appropriate citations of Eastern church law will be added.
Bishop Sean P. O’Malley of Palm Beach, Fla., called the charter and norms “a corrective to an approach in the past that proved very inadequate.” Approval of the norms, he added, demonstrates that the application of the charter is not just a matter of relying on the good will of bishops, but it allows the bishops “to say we indeed have a national policy.”
At a follow-up press conference, Bishop Lori said the bishops anticipate receiving Vatican confirmation of the norms, giving them the force of church law throughout the United States, before the end of the year.
Bishop Doran said it may take about 18 months to gear up U.S. church courts, training lawyers and judges, in order to handle the expected cases resulting from the ability under the revised norms to bring offending priests to trial.
When a reporter asked if the revised charter and norms constituted “zero tolerance,” Cardinal George said, “Yes.”
To a reporter’s claim that some bishops have actively recruited homosexuals for the priesthood, he said, “We don’t know of any bishops who have gone out of their way to recruit homosexuals. I don’t know of any bishop who would hesitate to remove from their ranks (as priests of the diocese) those who are committed to a homosexual lifestyle.”
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington said in an interview, “We have done what we promised to do. We have been faithful to the decisions we made in Dallas. And thanks be to God, the Holy See has said, ‘You’re on track; we’ll go along with that.’”
Bishop Gregory says church is better off for address sex scandal
(CNS) — The U.S. church today is “in a much better place than we were in this past very painful year,” said Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Speaking at the closing press conference of the bishops’ Nov. 11-14 meeting, Bishop Gregory said there is still a need to restore trust in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, but the bishops are committed to a course of action that will do so.
“It’s been painful for bishops as we come to terms with this issue, with our mistakes, our accountability,” he said. “It’s been painful for our priests, who have endured a period of awful scrutiny and some very unfair judgments on priests in general. It’s been painful for our diocesan communities, our faithful and religious who make up the local churches.”
He added, however, “At this point I feel very much heartened that we are in a much different space. We have taken some very serious actions. We’ve been in dialogue with the Holy See” on revising the norms for dealing with sexual abuse that the bishops adopted in Dallas.
He said that during the meeting the bishops approved the “procedural corrections” the Vatican offered for the norms “and so I have every reason to believe that the Holy See will confirm what we’ve done here.”
“There are also other steps that we have to take, and the bishops are committed to taking those steps,” he said. “I believe that our priests are committed to working with us, and our faithful are looking to us to act on what we have promised.”
Asked if the bishops’ attention to stewardship at the meeting was sparked in part by concern over reports of Catholics contributing less to the church because of the scandal, Bishop Gregory said, “We are pastors, and therefore we have to take into consideration all those factors that will influence the pastoral mission of the church. The monies that are entrusted to us are obviously a very important part of that mission.”
But he added that stewardship “is also important for us because it’s a part of our transparency. Those funds are given to us, entrusted to us … to be used for the mission of the church.
“If we are to restore the confidence that people have in us, that may have very well been shaken over the past several months or this past year, we need to make sure that we are honest and aboveboard and open in sharing that information with our people,” he said.
A restoration of trust “will only be possible when we are open in our stewardship,” he said. When asked about the fact that the revised norms on sexual abuse ascribe only a consultative role to the predominantly lay diocesan review boards that investigate allegations, Bishop Gregory answered that their role was consultative before the revisions as well.
Approval of the norms will mean that such review boards are required in every diocese, he said. “What I take great heart at is that the bishops of the conference see the value and have made, I’ve made, very wise use of and will continue to make extensive use of the review board, so the consultative nature does not mean that they are unimportant,” he said.
“As a matter of fact, I would say that right now those lay boards in local churches enjoy incredible significance,” he added. “And the opinions of the laity and the assistance that the laity will provide us, if anything, has grown even more important as we take those steps in the future that are necessary … to address the terrible crime and sin and scandal of sexual misconduct.”