The National Catholic Review
Toward a revision of the Dallas charter and the Essential Norms
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Since World War II, the Catholic Church has become a leading champion of the inviolable rights of individual human persons. Applying this principle, the bishops of the United States in November 2000 published Responsibility and Rehabilitation, a critique of the American criminal justice system, in which they upheld the dignity of the accused and rejected slogans such as “three strikes and you’re out.” Among other things, the bishops stated: “One-size-fits-all solutions are often inadequate.... We must renew our efforts to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Therefore, we do not support mandatory sentencing that replaces judges’ assessments with rigid formulations.”

“Finally,” they said, “we must welcome ex-offenders back into society as full participating members, to the extent feasible.”

In the case of the sexual abuse crisis, the United States bishops have taken positions at odds with these high principles. Meeting at Dallas in June 2002 under the glare of adverse publicity and under intense pressure from various survivors’ networks, they hastily adopted, after less than two days of debate, the so-called Dallas charter and an accompanying set of norms that were intended, after approval by the Holy See, to be legally binding in the United States.

In the charter, the bishops rightly expressed the gravity of the problem that needed to be addressed. “The sexual abuse of children and young people by some priests and bishops, and the ways in which we bishops addressed these crimes and sins, have caused enormous pain, anger, and confusion.” But in their effort to protect children, to restore public confidence in the church as an institution and to protect the church from liability suits, the bishops opted for an extreme response. The dominant principle of the charter was “zero tolerance.” Even a single offense, committed many decades ago, no matter what the mitigating circumstances, was deemed sufficient to debar a priest for life from the exercise of his ministry. Having been so severely criticized for exercising poor judgment in the past, the bishops apparently wanted to avoid having to make any judgments in these cases.

The church must protect the community from harm, but it must also protect the human rights of each individual who may face an accusation. The supposed good of the totality must not override the rights of individual persons. Some of the measures adopted went far beyond the protection of children from abuse. The bishops adopted the very principles that they themselves had condemned in their critique of the secular judicial system. In so doing they undermined the morale of their priests and inflicted a serious blow to the credibility of the church as a mirror of justice.

Although the charter was modified as a result of consultation with Vatican officials, the revised norms are still subject to criticism. Groups of priests still protest that they are not accorded the basic requirements of due process. Continued discussion may be helpful because the Holy See granted recognitio to the “Essential Norms” only for a period of two years from their promulgation (Dec. 12, 2002). If the norms are extended, they will probably be first revised. With regard to the rights of accused priests, the following 15 principles would seem to be pertinent for any re-evaluation of the “Essential Norms.”

Presumption of Innocence

At the time when accusations are made, it is often impossible to judge their truth, and this impossibility may persist indefinitely if the accusations are denied and probative evidence is lacking. When dioceses routinely announce that accused priests have been “removed from public ministry because of a credible accusation of sexual abuse of a minor,” such priests are, in effect, branded as guilty. An accusation is deemed credible unless it is manifestly groundless. When priests are treated as guilty, they suffer the loss of their good name and as a consequence find it difficult in the future to function effectively in their God-given vocation, assuming that they are restored to ministry.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, recognizing this problem, decreed in December 2000: “All persons are presumed innocent unless and until guilt is either admitted or determined by due process. If church personnel accused of abuse are asked to step aside from the office they hold while the matter is pending, it is to be clearly understood that they are on leave and that no admissions or guilt are implied by this fact. Unless and until guilt has been admitted or proved, those accused should not be referred to as offenders or in any way treated as offenders.”

A corollary of the presumption of innocence is that while an accused priest may be prohibited from exercising public ministry while his canonical case is pending, it would be unjust to order him not to wear clerical garb, especially since Canon 284 obliges him to wear such garb. Also it would be unjust and lacking in charity to tell an accused priest, as some bishops have done, that he is not welcome to attend gatherings of priests, including the diocesan priests’ convocation, the Chrism Mass or priests’ retreats.

Analogous problems, of course, arise in many sectors of our society. Accused policemen and public officials are often suspended pending the investigation of their cases. But they are generally restored to duty unless they are found guilty.

Definition of Sexual Abuse

The “Essential Norms” include under the category of sexual abuse an “external, objectively grave violation of the Sixth Commandment...by which an adult uses a minor as an object of sexual gratification,” even when the act does not “involve force, physical contact, or a discernible harmful outcome” (Preamble). The Report of the National Review Board of February 2004 remarks that this definition of sexual abuse is “expansive and somewhat amorphous.” A distinguished canon lawyer, Ladislas Orsy, S.J., writes in The Boston College Law Review (Fall 2003): “The Preamble concludes without a precise legal definition of the criminal act of abuse; it refers, instead, to a generally accepted understanding in moral theology.... The general terms borrowed from moral theology may leave too much room for ambiguities. To assign ultimate responsibility for the definition of the crime to the diocesan bishop/eparch may result in definitions diverging from place to place and from case to case; not a sound practice in criminal law.”

Proportionality

While speaking of “grave” offenses, the “Essential Norms” do not distinguish among different degrees of gravity. Pope John Paul II, however, has insisted on this distinction. In an important address given on Feb. 6, 2004, to a plenary meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he declared, “Once a delict is proven, in each case you need to discern well both the just principle of proportionality between the offense and the penalty and the predominant need to safeguard the people of God.”

Displaced by zero tolerance, the principle of proportionality finds no place in the “Essential Norms.” A priest who uttered an inappropriate word or made a single imprudent gesture is treated in the same way as a serial rapist. The National Review Board, in its report, comments that according to some observers, the penalty of laicization for each and every offense is “inconsistent with concepts of natural justice and canon law that are premised upon differentiation in penalties depending upon the gravity of the misconduct.”

Retroactivity

As a general rule, neither civil nor canon law is retroactive. The Code of Canon Law declares that “laws regard the future, not the past, unless they expressly provide for the past” (Canon 9). It seems unjust to apply particular laws created in 2002 to offenses committed long ago, as is now happening. Often priests had in good faith entered into agreements with their bishops that they would be restored to ministry if they underwent therapy and were pronounced cured. In some cases, after many years of unexceptionable service, they were suddenly ejected from ministry in spite of such previous agreements.

Statute of Limitations (Prescription)

In canon law an action against a priest for crimes against a juvenile may not be brought more than 10 years after the alleged victim has reached adulthood, currently defined as beginning with one’s 18th birthday. In canon and civil law, statutes of limitations or prescription, derived from classical Roman law, have been incorporated in virtually all legal systems in the Western tradition. These limitations are established for many reasons. With the passage of time, memories fade or become distorted, witnesses die or leave the area, and physical evidence becomes more difficult to obtain. In short, with the passage of time, the possibility of erroneous conviction increases. Another reason for statutes of limitations is that if the only accusation against a person is from the distant past, it is reasonable to conclude that the accused does not pose a present danger to society.

According to Father Orsy, statutes of limitations and prescription are radically different in nature. Statutes of limitations merely bar actions; prescriptions create or extinguish rights or obligations. Dispensation from rights created by prescription, he says, does not make sense. Accused priests should not be denied their acquired rights. Some canon lawyers believe that there needs to be a reconsideration of the faculty to dispense from prescription that was given by the pope to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Feb. 7, 2002. This dispensation, they believe, was exacted under intense pressure and does not conform to the canonical tradition.

Oversight and Therapy

Prior to the Dallas charter, a priest with a problem was able to apply for therapy and be sent to an institution with the support of his bishop. Under the “Essential Norms,” as they are being interpreted, this possibility is foreclosed. The bishop will not restore the priest to ministry and probably will not pay the costs of his rehabilitation. Thus priests with such problems have no motivation to seek treatment that might prevent future acts of abuse. The National Review Board, in its assessment of the “Essential Norms,” reports: “Both experts and board witnesses have noted that the public may be protected more effectively if such priests remain under church oversight rather than if they are laicized and live in the secular world without any oversight. In addition, some individuals with whom the board spoke question whether the policy discourages self-reporting that could pre-empt further acts of abuse....”

Confidentiality

Some bishops, though not all, acting as though confidential communications made to them outside of sacramental confession should be reported to the civil authorities, turn over their confidential files to district attorneys and civil lawyers. Other bishops quite properly refuse to surrender these files, especially when there are civil laws prohibiting them from so doing—statutes, for example, that protect the confidentiality of medical and psychological records. If confidential records are not protected, priests with personal problems are discouraged from turning to their bishops for help and advice. As a result, the relationship between bishops and priests is seriously wounded. In addition, bishops become unable to minister timely help to priests who may need it.

Settlements

Not infrequently, dioceses or religious institutes enter into a financial settlement with accusers, even if the accusation is deemed false, in order to avoid the expense and negative publicity of a trial. This occurs even in cases in which the accused priest protests his innocence and requests a trial. When such settlements are reached, great care should be taken to protect the good name of the accused so that the public does not regard the settlement as tantamount to an admission of guilt. If no guilt or liability has been admitted or accepted, the announcement should make this clear.

Remuneration of Accused Priests

The “Essential Norms” say nothing about the support of priests who have been removed from ministry, and as a result some bishops seem to be failing to give decent remuneration required by Canons 281 and 1350 §1. Accused priests are in many cases very inadequately supported by their dioceses, even in cases where they have not been found guilty of any offense. In effect, such priests are forced into secular employment without being accorded due process of law.

In keeping with the principle expressed by the Australian bishops, quoted above, accused priests should receive their full salary and benefits until there is a final resolution of their case. If they are not provided with room and board, they should be given additional compensation for these expenses.

Access to Trial

Although priests have a theoretical right to an ecclesiastical trial, such trials are in most cases not accessible to them, at least until years after the accusation. Part of the delay is caused by the fact that hundreds of cases have been referred to the C.D.F. in the past two years. Many of these are cases in which there is a single accusation dating back decades. If the principle of prescription were re-established as being indispensable, many or most of these cases could be resolved early on.

Another reason for the delay is that the church in the United States, and in most other countries, lacks a sufficient supply of canon lawyers adequately prepared to handle criminal cases of this kind. Accused priests therefore wait for years in a kind of limbo. If they are eventually cleared, the clearance comes too late.

Virtual Laicization

Upon being ordained, a priest gains the right to exercise the ministry corresponding to his order. After a formal ecclesiastical process has been initiated, the bishop may for prudential reasons forbid a priest to exercise public ministry for a period of time (Canon 1722), but removal from public ministry without a canonical trial or special action by the Roman pontiff should never be permanent or excessively prolonged, since for practical purposes such removal amounts to the very harsh penalty of forced laicization.

Laicization

Involuntary loss of the clerical state can be imposed by a judicial sentence or by a special act of the pope (Canon 290). But such removal from the clerical state should be exceedingly rare, since it obfuscates the very meaning of ordination, which confers an indelible consecration. It reinforces the false impression that priesthood is a job dependent on contract rather than a sacrament conferred by Christ. The reduction of a priest to the lay state, moreover, does nothing to assure the safety of children, whose protection is supposed to be the decisive norm. As mentioned above, it frequently removes the priest from an environment in which his conduct would be suitably supervised.

Prospect of Reinstatement

The Dallas charter quoted from the pope’s address to a meeting with American cardinals on April 23, 2002: “There is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young” (Article 5). But the Charter failed to quote the pope’s balancing statement: “At the same time...we cannot forget the power of Christian conversion, that radical decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which reaches to the depths of a person’s soul and can work extraordinary change.”

Forgiveness and reinstatement are appropriate when the sinner has repented and made a firm resolve of amendment, and when there is no reasonable likelihood of a relapse. The John Jay Report, published in February 2004, makes it clear that the majority of accused priests have only a single accusation against them. There is no reason to think that the protection of young people requires the removal from the ministry of elderly or mature priests who may have committed an offense in their youth but have performed many decades of exemplary service. Such action seems to reflect an attitude of vindictiveness to which the church should not yield.

The policy of the Canadian bishops, in stark contrast to the U.S. “Essential Norms,” contains provisions even for the possibility of reintegrating an offending priest into public ministry after being released from prison.

Offenses Beyond the Scope of the Essential Norms

The norms state that the penalties apply to “acts of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon” (Norm 8). But in some cases bishops have treated the norms as if they targeted offenses committed by priests before they entered the seminary or before they were ordained. This is to go beyond the charter, strictly interpreted. It is a well-known principle of canonical jurisprudence that laws establishing penalties or restricting rights are to be interpreted as narrowly as the ordinary meaning of the words permits (Canon 18).

Care must also be taken to see that offenses committed with adults are not treated as if they fell under the provisions of the Dallas charter and its “Essential Norms.”

Universal Legislation

The problem of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy exists in practically all countries. Efforts to address the problem expeditiously have resulted in different policies being promulgated by different episcopal conferences, such as those of the United States, Canada, England, Australia, Ireland and the Philippines. In some respects these policies are substantially different, as illustrated above in the case of the Canadian policy on reintegrating offending priests who have been released from prison. Such disparities in the law present an issue of “geographical justice,” which is particularly unsuitable in the Catholic Church as a universal society. Some distinguished canon lawyers have recommended that the Holy See should establish, in consultation with the various episcopal conferences, a set of universal norms that would elaborate, as necessary, on the general provisions already in the Code of Canon Law. Such general legislation would not exclude the possibility of certain regional adaptations, but it would obviate the need to draw up a whole set of laws for each nation or region.

Equitable Treatment

It is to be hoped that the revision of the “Essential Norms” in the coming year will be undertaken with a sincere desire to give a more equitable treatment to accused priests, especially those who may be presumed innocent. “Zero tolerance” may be appropriate in cases where a serious crime is known to have been committed and as long as there is a palpable risk of its being repeated. After doing everything necessary to create a safe environment for children, the bishops should strive to do what they can to see that innocent priests are not treated as if they were guilty and that all priests are treated with justice and Christian charity.

As the U.S. bishops themselves declared less than five years ago in Responsibility and Rehabilitation, “One-size-fits-all solutions are often inadequate.” They appealed to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels: “The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) shows God’s love for us and models how we are to love one another. In spite of his younger son’s reckless life and squandering of his inheritance, the father celebrates his return home, recognizing that his son has shown contrition and has changed his life. The lost who have been found are to be welcomed and celebrated, not resented and rejected.”

Priests, like others, should be given due process of law. Even when it is clear that an offense has been committed, the church should not by her policies send the message that she does not care about the clerical sex offender or that she believes him to be beyond redemption. After correction offenders should be welcomed back into their order “as full participating members, to the extent feasible.”

Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., is the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University, Bronx, N.Y. This article was given as a lecture to the Thomas More Society in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on May 27, 2004.

Comments

Nicholas Clifford | 6/22/2004 - 10:27am
Cardinal Dulles's important and troubling article about the ways in which the rights of individual priests may be ignored by the Dallas Charter and the Statement of Norms overlooks two important aspects of this episode.

First, when the abuse crisis was brought to light, the bishops, faced with the need to make their authority once more credible, had two choices. They could either behave like Captain Reynaud in "Casablanca" (who professed himself shocked, shocked, to discover gambling going on in Rick's Café), and proclaim that the priests were the problem, putting all the blame on them; or they could have initiated an ultimately far more fruitful (might one also say Christian?) process of enquiry into the question of whether the current structures of church governance not only permit, but perhaps may even encourage such scandals (sexual, financial, etc.) to take place. Unfortunately, they chose the first course, with predictable enough results.

Second, in suggesting that priests have been denied "due process of law," Cardinal Dulles fails to understand that the Vatican in general, and the C.D.F. in particular, have not exactly set the church a shining example. The treatment accorded to such men as Boff, Dupuis, Panikkar, Kung, and other allegedly dissident theologians comes to mind, as does Cardinal Ratzinger's own encouragement of anonymous delation. Dulles might wish to re-read the award-winning editorial published by America on April 9, 2001, which puts the case far better than I can (it is easily available on the web). Whatever canon law may or may not say on the subject of due process, is it surprising that some bishops are more likely to be governed by the way Rome actually behaves than by the way it should behave?

Robert E. McNulty | 6/21/2004 - 11:05pm
After reading Avery Dulles, S.J. on "Rights of Accused Priests" I rushed to my computer to tear it apart. I found that two excellent letters had already been filed doing just that.

Instead I'll just add this flat-out warning and forecast: If any attempt is made by the Vatican or any one else to reduce the present strictures it will blow up in their faces. Cardinal Dulles seems to think the Bishop of Rome can make some statement and we will submit. It should be crystal clear we will not.

Incidentally I have about a dozen priest friends and apparently I am blessed. All of them are happy whether retired or active.

REV PAUL ENGEL.OFM.CAP | 7/3/2004 - 5:24pm
WHAT A TREMENDOUS ARTICLE SO CLEARLY WRITTEN "THE RIGHTS OF ACCUSED PRIESTS" HAS GIVEN ALL PRIESTS THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST THANK YOU CARDINAL DULLES.

AS A PRIEST FOR THE LAST FORTY YEARS AND WITH GODS' HELP TIL I DIE THESE LAST TWO YEARS HAS BEEN TRULLY A VIA DOLOROSA SEEING INNOCENT MEN TORN FROM THEIR COMMUNITIES AND PARISHES WITHOUT A JUST TRIAL AND TREATED LIKE CRIMINALS CERTAINLY TWO WRONGS DON'T MAKE EVEN ONE RIGHT!

I PRAY THAT THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DALLAS CHARTER WILL ACT QUICKLY CHANGING THE ESSENTIAL NORMS SO THEY REFLECT TRUTHFULLY THE CODE OF CANON LAW ,AND THE SPIRIT OF CHIRST. PERHAPS THOSE CAST OUT UNFAIRLY WILL ACCEPT OUR FORGIVNESS AND RETURN TO THEIR MINISTRY WHICH THEY HAVE SERVED SO WELL!

Thomas M. Carpenter | 7/20/2004 - 1:28am
Extraordinary balance between reason and caritas!

Henry Littleton | 7/7/2004 - 1:35pm
Dear Marie R. Garon,

A person that commits a crime cannot to soon be punished, and we cannot to soon forgive. There are many grave sins, and the effects of evil do target priests, nuns and brothers. The answer you do not provide is how do we distinguish between those that rejected God’s graces long before they entered the clergy, and those of grace that fell victim to evil. And for those that did fall victim to evil, and through the grace of God repented, is it your belief that the power of the Holy Spirit that has lead our church for 2000 years is powerless to change a pedophile?

The faith of our Church is baseless if we reject the power of the Trinity and the effects of evil. The question all Catholics must ask their conscience is whether it is God’s love for the sinner, or evil’s power over our emotions, that helps make our choice in this matter.

Marie R. Garon | 7/6/2004 - 9:31pm
In his systematic, thoughtful article Cardinal Dulles makes several valid, important points and suggests changes that would help to protect the rights of abused priests. But in his zeal to protect innocent priests he fails to consider the reality of the nature and effects of pedophilia, and thus he gives too little consideration to the rights of victims and of society at large.

As a recently retired Licensed Professional Counselor who has had experiences with pedophiles and their victims, I feel compelled to state the following facts relavant to the article:

- Victim of childhood sexual abuse are often unable to speak of it until years after its occurrence.

- Some cases of abuse are never reported; others are reported only after the abuser is known to have died.

- Pedophiles by their own admission rarely, if ever, have only one victim.

- Clinicians who have worked with both abusers and victims know that Dulles errs when he states "if the only accusation against a person is from the distant past, it is reasonable to assume that the accused person does not pose a present danger to society."

- The statement that elderly or mature priests present no threat to children seems to indicate a failure to acknowledge the sexual responses of males in their sixties, seventies, and beyond.

- Pedophilia, like some other addictions and diseases, is treatable but rarely curable.

Although others could be mentioned, these facts provide reason enough to employ a "zero tolerance" policy and to refuse to re-establish prescription for abusers of children and young teenagers.

Accused priests are entitled to a timely determination of their guilt or innocence. Innocent priests must be reinstated. However, a lack of sufficient canon lawyers to hear their cases does not, in justice, provide sufficient reason to re-establish prescription, considering most victims' inability to report their abuse until years later.

Because Dulles discusses sexual abuse of children as a sin and not an addiction or illness, he states that repentant abusers, afer correction, ought to be forgiven and reinstated--welcomed back "as full participating members." In Christian love we do forgive offenders, but to allow known pedophiles to return to active ministry would pose a threat to society. This would be a repetition of the very mistake which greatly conributed to the scandalous situation in which the Church in this country now finds itself.

Henry Littleton | 6/25/2004 - 2:27pm
Child abuse is a horrible crime. It leaves a victim that is scared for life, and a sinner that may face eternal damnation. One will need professional help for many years to come; the other should face prosecution in the courts, and the penalties prescribed by law, if convicted.

But, the question we as Catholics must answer, charged by Christ to love one another as we must love Him, is how to minister to each of them. While we can never turn our eyes from the needs of the victims, we can never cease our ministries to those who sin and seek God’s forgiveness. How many times must we forgive these sinners, the answer is found in our Holy Scriptures.

If one believes in the Tradition, Scriptures and Magisterium of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, then one must believe that a Priest is forever, like Melchizedek of old, and we as Catholics must never walk away from a man that received the power to consecrate the Host, and place God in our hands.

Robert A. Nunz | 6/19/2004 - 5:03pm
Cardinal Dulles’s "The Rights of Accused Priests" was both confusing and disappointing: I predict that many victim groups will be angered by at least some of its contents. Cardinal Dulles begins by postulating that the Church was a “leading champion of human rights” since World War II, as opposed to our Criminal Justice system which he then criticizes in one paragraph. Of course, for most of that period the Church protected priests no matter what heinous offenses they committed, and only since the scandal became evident in 2002, have they done any concerted action to seriously deal with the problem.

As a retired Criminal Justice professional, I found the critique of our system much oversimplified. He quite rightly criticizes “three strikes and you’re out” laws as do many others. But, such laws are not universal and many States have properly adopted mandatory jail sentences for violent or multiple felonies. While jail may well be overutilized for non-violent offenses, sex abuse is hardly a victimless crime! The issue of determinacy raised by the Cardinal is really about who controls the plea bargaining process, judges or prosecutors - not rigid assessments vs. judges assessments. Today, most believe some structuring of discretion at all parts of the system is necessary.

Finally, he adds we need to welcome back into society as “full participating members”. ex -offenders. There is no mention of the special problems that many sex offenders present on community reentry, which has given rise to sex offender registration laws. Cardinal Dulles then offers the statement that the “good of the totality must not outweigh the rights of individual priests.” I am not sure of the basis of this remark, but folks involved in enforcement/ public safety are trained that the greatest priority is the protection of the community! Instead of consulting his fellow Jesuit canonists, perhaps Cardinal Dulles should have gone a few blocks from the Fordham campus and spoke to professionals at the John Jay College before unleashing his critique of our system.

A few other statements also deserve some attention: -The Cardinal feels the presumption of innocence means a priest should not be withdrawn from ministry if a reasonable allegation of abuse is made. In many professions dealing with individuals from health or public safety matters, an individual who is charged with a crime (misdemeanor of felony, by definition) would probably be suspended immediately. How much more should this be true with those with the care of souls and who have historically been placed on such a high pedestal?

- The Cardinal complains of the lack of clarity in defining sex abuse. I would suggest that Bishops refer to the penal law in their jurisdictions (e.g. sections 130 and following in New York State) and to emphasize that sex crimes are against any innocent person, not only children! The Bishops would also do well to read laws on facilitating or aiding or abetting those who commit such crimes.

-The Cardinal complains with some merit, about the lack of distinction into the gravity of offenses committed. However, he offers little insight into what he considers “grave.” Felonies only? Misdemeanors? Does he think priests, given their responsibilities, should be held to a higher standard than the average person?

-The Cardinal raises the issue of retroactivity and the statute of limitations. Nowhere does he mention, much less address the problem of “recovered memory” which is especially problematic in these cases.

-The Cardinal asserts that some Bishops have overcooperated in turning over material to prosecutors and harmed confidentiality. He cites no examples. It is quite clear from the Boston experience (and elsewhere, e.g. Phoenix) that Bishops have tried to stonewall turning over needed material and that Judges (whose assessments we are to trust) have had to pry it from them.

-In discussing reinstatement, the Cardinal feels i

Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher | 6/22/2004 - 8:37pm
Certainly, Your Eminence, we must, as followers of Christ, extend mercy and the fullness of justice to those who have been accused and found guilty. And certainly, he who is accused should continue to enjoy the rights that are guaranteed by canon law: the right to canonical representation, the right to a full and thorough investigation of the allegation against him, and the right to the restoration of his good name if the allegations are found to be false. His privileges of title and clerical garb should not be denied him, and he should continue to receive financial support during the investigation.

However, during the investigation, he should be removed from active ministry just as any other citizen accused of child molestation is removed from the alleged victims to avoid trauma to them.

I would add that he should be strongly discouraged by his bishop and fellow priests from making statements about his accusers that characterize them as liars, crackpots, insane, greedy, etc. He should be strongly advised against encouraging a public consituency of friends and supporters to do the same. He should be provided with housing away from the parish or religious institution so as not to cause alarm or trauma to alleged victims. He should be provided with spiritual and psychological support to assist him with dealing with the effects of the accusation.

And, if after the investigation is complete, he is found to be a child molestor, he should be stripped of his title and ministerial duties, he should not be allowed to wear clerical garb, if he is not removed from the clerical state, he should be assigned to some sort of ecclesiastical penitentiary, or indeed, a civil penitentiary if the crime he committed is within the statute of limitations. He must never be allowed to be around children, youth or those who are vulnerable.

I am a survivor of clergy sexual abuse. I was abused by a seminarian when I was 11 years old. I do not have any memory more clear than what the abuser did to me 37 years ago, which I described in detail to the bishops of the United States, (including yourself) in Dallas on June 13, 2002.

Unfortunately, the criminal statute of limitations is long past. The abuser removed himself from active ministry to marry his pregnant mistress, his superior is a bishop in Mexico, who has no interest in removing him from the clerical state. So, Your Eminence, please put your mind at ease. At least one child molestor will not have to endure the unfair and harsh process that is mandated by the Charter and Essential Norms.

I however, must suffer for the rest of my life.

Sister Maureen Anne Turlish SNDdeN | 6/19/2004 - 6:28pm
Regarding Avery Dulles' "Rights of Accused Priests" (June 21-28, 2004):

Whose rights are we protecting anyway?

I have no problem with the due process rights of anyone. Would that all members of the Catholic Church were respected enough to be accorded access to them?

I seem to remember Sister Jeannine Gramick, Bernard Haring, Sister Barbara Fiand and the Reverend Tom Doyle. These aforementioned come to mind quickly as having been denied "due process" or having been "blackballed" when seeking employment within the church establishment. A little research would help me remember more, no doubt.

I received an early education in workers' rights having walked in my first picket line at age ten. My father, Paul Turlish, was a AFL-CIO Union President who succumbed to a heart attack in eleventh hour contract negotiations in Philadelphia in June of 1975. Father Dennis Comey S.J., a good friend and mentor, gave the eulogy at Dad's funeral.

I entered the religious community of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in August of 1960 at the age of 21, having been engaged to be married. I discussed with my fiancé why I thought God was calling me to the religious life. I remember that dinner at the William Penn Inn in Gwyneed Valley, Pennsylvania as if it were yesterday. It was not easy.

In other words, I don't think I entered religious life with the naiveté of a 16 year old high school graduate.

Having said all this, I want to express my utter disgust after reading Avery Dulles' pedantic "Rights of Accused Priests" (June 21-28, 2004).

How dare he speak so cavalierly about a "single offense, committed many decades ago, no matter what the mitigating circumstances," in regard to the sexual abuse of a child. Although I do not believe there are many, such individuals should be removed from active ministry, period. And "mitigating circumstances" brings tears to my eyes.

Explain that to me, Avery Dulles. Give me some examples of "mitigating circumstances."

I am as concerned as you about those falsely accused so I would suggest setting up a website, and start listing the names of all priests who have been deemed falsely accused and one can certainly start with Cardinal Joseph Bernadin and go from there. Fair is fair. But I doubt that this would even be considered because it risks the possibly of truly credible victims coming forward as well.

Is not murder of the soul a much more egregious crime than murder of the body? Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, MD is of that opinion. Yet there are no statute of limitations for the former; only for the latter. Why not? At least there should be no such limitations in church law.

It is abhorrent to suggest, as Dulles does, that these sexual abusive priests, after correction, should be welcomed back into their order "as full participating members, to the extent feasible."

A chief financial officer, having been found guilty of embezzling company funds or looting pension accounts, would not be welcomed back to his former position. The idea is ludicrous.

Closer to home, we would not allow a hockey coach to return to his former school position after finishing a jail term for the rape of student athletes. Why would we even consider the possibility in regard to priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse or molestation, regardless of whether or not they have served time in jail or have had statutes of limitation expire in regard to their perfidy?

Into society? Yes.

Into the church? To the communion rail? Yes and yes, but only with confession and penance.

As a priest? No.

I wonder if Avery Dulles has ever attend a SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) meeting; met with and listened to survivors of clergy sexual abuse? I have and that one meeting was the most spiritually and emotionally wrenching experience I can remember.

In all justice and charity, pa

Frank O’Hara | 2/9/2007 - 3:44pm
I’m glad that Cardinal Avery Dulles stood up for the rights of priests to receive due process when they are accused of wrongdoing (6/21). As he points out, the definition of sexual abuse has been expanded to include even verbal offenses, while at the same time the public embarrassment and losses from even being accused innocently have increased greatly. It is no service to one group (those alleging abuses) to take away the legitimate rights of another (those accused of abuses).

In the meantime, as Cardinal Dulles’s thoughtful article is published, the Vatican has promoted Cardinal Law to a major church in Rome, has dragged its feet on dealing with priest discipline actions and as yet has not punished or removed one American bishop for wrongdoing in the entire sexual abuse scandal. Maybe Cardinal Dulles can offer his colleagues in Rome some thoughtful advice next!

Richard K. Taylor | 2/9/2007 - 4:43pm
As a lay member of Voice of the Faithful of Greater Philadelphia, I appreciated the article by Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., “Rights of Accused Priests” (6/21). “To support priests of integrity” is one of Voice of the Faithful’s chief goals. We are very concerned about priests who are accused unfairly of child abuse and who do not receive due process from society or the church. Even those priests who have abused children are human beings who deserve fair and just treatment.

Cardinal Dulles describes how the current approach fails to embody not only equitable treatment, but also Christian values like compassion, conversion, repentance and forgiveness. His article focuses primarily on church policy, but the process in society’s criminal justice system is equally harsh. Most dioceses have made a commitment to turn priest abusers over to the civil authorities. When priests are prosecuted, they enter an adversarial, retributive, “prisonization” process. They are motivated to hire a lawyer and to deny guilt in order to get off or receive a lighter sentence. The principals see one another only in court. If they address one another, it is through their attorneys, not face to face. This adversarial process is designed to fix blame and mete out punishment. Its purpose is not to explore steps that might express compassion or lead to healing for either victim or victimizer.

But an alternative approach to the retributive system—“restorative justice”—is now available in 40 states through over 1,400 programs. To my mind, it can better serve both justice and compassion for priest abusers and abuse survivors. Restorative justice works closely with judges and courts but uses mediators rather than lawyers. If the parties are willing, it brings together all those with a stake in the offense in a context where everyone can be heard. During the dialogue, the victim can ask questions and explain the awful harm that he or she has suffered as a result of the offense. The offender can describe what happened from his or her point of view, admit guilt, express remorse, ask for forgiveness and make a commitment to try to repair the damage done.

Over the course of several meetings, the victim may begin to feel freed from self-damaging hatred and bitterness. He or she may come to feel that their healing has been furthered and that justice has been satisfied. Rather than continue to press charges and insist on imprisonment, the survivor may agree upon a plan (restitution and treatment, for example) by which the abuser can begin to be reintegrated back into society.

One abuse survivor with whom I discussed restorative justice told me that most victims she knows would jump at the chance to meet with their abuser and to have the kind of discussion I have described. “What I want most is an admission from the perpetrator that the events as I described them actually took place,” she told me. “If I heard this and a sincere expression of remorse, it would bring a real sense of healing. I would be much less inclined to press ahead with criminal charges and demand punishment.”

Clearly the present adversarial criminal justice system offers little in the way of resolution or healing. Values like mercy and redemption rarely enter the equation. Might the church work with the courts, abuse survivors and other relevant parties to explore restorative justice as a way to better balance the equally important values of justice/fairness on the one hand, and compassion/reconciliation on the other?

Mary Anne Huddleston, I.H.M. | 2/9/2007 - 3:31pm
Congratulations for printing “Rights of Accused Priests,” by Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J. (6/21).

Would that the formulators of the Dallas charter (2002) had heeded the advice of the only cardinal in their midst who is not a diocesan bishop. That a prelate of the stature and theological persuasion of Cardinal Dulles—while decrying the evil of sexual abuse—would cogently remind us all of the rights of accused priests is consoling, to say the least. The reminder is likewise a welcome counter to the publication of the names of priests who were alleged but not proven to be abusers. Let us hope that the message of Cardinal Dulles will serve to avert other tragic malignings like that of which the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was an innocent victim.

Nicholas Clifford | 6/22/2004 - 10:27am
Cardinal Dulles's important and troubling article about the ways in which the rights of individual priests may be ignored by the Dallas Charter and the Statement of Norms overlooks two important aspects of this episode.

First, when the abuse crisis was brought to light, the bishops, faced with the need to make their authority once more credible, had two choices. They could either behave like Captain Reynaud in "Casablanca" (who professed himself shocked, shocked, to discover gambling going on in Rick's Café), and proclaim that the priests were the problem, putting all the blame on them; or they could have initiated an ultimately far more fruitful (might one also say Christian?) process of enquiry into the question of whether the current structures of church governance not only permit, but perhaps may even encourage such scandals (sexual, financial, etc.) to take place. Unfortunately, they chose the first course, with predictable enough results.

Second, in suggesting that priests have been denied "due process of law," Cardinal Dulles fails to understand that the Vatican in general, and the C.D.F. in particular, have not exactly set the church a shining example. The treatment accorded to such men as Boff, Dupuis, Panikkar, Kung, and other allegedly dissident theologians comes to mind, as does Cardinal Ratzinger's own encouragement of anonymous delation. Dulles might wish to re-read the award-winning editorial published by America on April 9, 2001, which puts the case far better than I can (it is easily available on the web). Whatever canon law may or may not say on the subject of due process, is it surprising that some bishops are more likely to be governed by the way Rome actually behaves than by the way it should behave?

Robert E. McNulty | 6/21/2004 - 11:05pm
After reading Avery Dulles, S.J. on "Rights of Accused Priests" I rushed to my computer to tear it apart. I found that two excellent letters had already been filed doing just that.

Instead I'll just add this flat-out warning and forecast: If any attempt is made by the Vatican or any one else to reduce the present strictures it will blow up in their faces. Cardinal Dulles seems to think the Bishop of Rome can make some statement and we will submit. It should be crystal clear we will not.

Incidentally I have about a dozen priest friends and apparently I am blessed. All of them are happy whether retired or active.

REV PAUL ENGEL.OFM.CAP | 7/3/2004 - 5:24pm
WHAT A TREMENDOUS ARTICLE SO CLEARLY WRITTEN "THE RIGHTS OF ACCUSED PRIESTS" HAS GIVEN ALL PRIESTS THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST THANK YOU CARDINAL DULLES.

AS A PRIEST FOR THE LAST FORTY YEARS AND WITH GODS' HELP TIL I DIE THESE LAST TWO YEARS HAS BEEN TRULLY A VIA DOLOROSA SEEING INNOCENT MEN TORN FROM THEIR COMMUNITIES AND PARISHES WITHOUT A JUST TRIAL AND TREATED LIKE CRIMINALS CERTAINLY TWO WRONGS DON'T MAKE EVEN ONE RIGHT!

I PRAY THAT THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DALLAS CHARTER WILL ACT QUICKLY CHANGING THE ESSENTIAL NORMS SO THEY REFLECT TRUTHFULLY THE CODE OF CANON LAW ,AND THE SPIRIT OF CHIRST. PERHAPS THOSE CAST OUT UNFAIRLY WILL ACCEPT OUR FORGIVNESS AND RETURN TO THEIR MINISTRY WHICH THEY HAVE SERVED SO WELL!

Thomas M. Carpenter | 7/20/2004 - 1:28am
Extraordinary balance between reason and caritas!

Henry Littleton | 7/7/2004 - 1:35pm
Dear Marie R. Garon,

A person that commits a crime cannot to soon be punished, and we cannot to soon forgive. There are many grave sins, and the effects of evil do target priests, nuns and brothers. The answer you do not provide is how do we distinguish between those that rejected God’s graces long before they entered the clergy, and those of grace that fell victim to evil. And for those that did fall victim to evil, and through the grace of God repented, is it your belief that the power of the Holy Spirit that has lead our church for 2000 years is powerless to change a pedophile?

The faith of our Church is baseless if we reject the power of the Trinity and the effects of evil. The question all Catholics must ask their conscience is whether it is God’s love for the sinner, or evil’s power over our emotions, that helps make our choice in this matter.

Marie R. Garon | 7/6/2004 - 9:31pm
In his systematic, thoughtful article Cardinal Dulles makes several valid, important points and suggests changes that would help to protect the rights of abused priests. But in his zeal to protect innocent priests he fails to consider the reality of the nature and effects of pedophilia, and thus he gives too little consideration to the rights of victims and of society at large.

As a recently retired Licensed Professional Counselor who has had experiences with pedophiles and their victims, I feel compelled to state the following facts relavant to the article:

- Victim of childhood sexual abuse are often unable to speak of it until years after its occurrence.

- Some cases of abuse are never reported; others are reported only after the abuser is known to have died.

- Pedophiles by their own admission rarely, if ever, have only one victim.

- Clinicians who have worked with both abusers and victims know that Dulles errs when he states "if the only accusation against a person is from the distant past, it is reasonable to assume that the accused person does not pose a present danger to society."

- The statement that elderly or mature priests present no threat to children seems to indicate a failure to acknowledge the sexual responses of males in their sixties, seventies, and beyond.

- Pedophilia, like some other addictions and diseases, is treatable but rarely curable.

Although others could be mentioned, these facts provide reason enough to employ a "zero tolerance" policy and to refuse to re-establish prescription for abusers of children and young teenagers.

Accused priests are entitled to a timely determination of their guilt or innocence. Innocent priests must be reinstated. However, a lack of sufficient canon lawyers to hear their cases does not, in justice, provide sufficient reason to re-establish prescription, considering most victims' inability to report their abuse until years later.

Because Dulles discusses sexual abuse of children as a sin and not an addiction or illness, he states that repentant abusers, afer correction, ought to be forgiven and reinstated--welcomed back "as full participating members." In Christian love we do forgive offenders, but to allow known pedophiles to return to active ministry would pose a threat to society. This would be a repetition of the very mistake which greatly conributed to the scandalous situation in which the Church in this country now finds itself.

Henry Littleton | 6/25/2004 - 2:27pm
Child abuse is a horrible crime. It leaves a victim that is scared for life, and a sinner that may face eternal damnation. One will need professional help for many years to come; the other should face prosecution in the courts, and the penalties prescribed by law, if convicted.

But, the question we as Catholics must answer, charged by Christ to love one another as we must love Him, is how to minister to each of them. While we can never turn our eyes from the needs of the victims, we can never cease our ministries to those who sin and seek God’s forgiveness. How many times must we forgive these sinners, the answer is found in our Holy Scriptures.

If one believes in the Tradition, Scriptures and Magisterium of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, then one must believe that a Priest is forever, like Melchizedek of old, and we as Catholics must never walk away from a man that received the power to consecrate the Host, and place God in our hands.

Robert A. Nunz | 6/19/2004 - 5:03pm
Cardinal Dulles’s "The Rights of Accused Priests" was both confusing and disappointing: I predict that many victim groups will be angered by at least some of its contents. Cardinal Dulles begins by postulating that the Church was a “leading champion of human rights” since World War II, as opposed to our Criminal Justice system which he then criticizes in one paragraph. Of course, for most of that period the Church protected priests no matter what heinous offenses they committed, and only since the scandal became evident in 2002, have they done any concerted action to seriously deal with the problem.

As a retired Criminal Justice professional, I found the critique of our system much oversimplified. He quite rightly criticizes “three strikes and you’re out” laws as do many others. But, such laws are not universal and many States have properly adopted mandatory jail sentences for violent or multiple felonies. While jail may well be overutilized for non-violent offenses, sex abuse is hardly a victimless crime! The issue of determinacy raised by the Cardinal is really about who controls the plea bargaining process, judges or prosecutors - not rigid assessments vs. judges assessments. Today, most believe some structuring of discretion at all parts of the system is necessary.

Finally, he adds we need to welcome back into society as “full participating members”. ex -offenders. There is no mention of the special problems that many sex offenders present on community reentry, which has given rise to sex offender registration laws. Cardinal Dulles then offers the statement that the “good of the totality must not outweigh the rights of individual priests.” I am not sure of the basis of this remark, but folks involved in enforcement/ public safety are trained that the greatest priority is the protection of the community! Instead of consulting his fellow Jesuit canonists, perhaps Cardinal Dulles should have gone a few blocks from the Fordham campus and spoke to professionals at the John Jay College before unleashing his critique of our system.

A few other statements also deserve some attention: -The Cardinal feels the presumption of innocence means a priest should not be withdrawn from ministry if a reasonable allegation of abuse is made. In many professions dealing with individuals from health or public safety matters, an individual who is charged with a crime (misdemeanor of felony, by definition) would probably be suspended immediately. How much more should this be true with those with the care of souls and who have historically been placed on such a high pedestal?

- The Cardinal complains of the lack of clarity in defining sex abuse. I would suggest that Bishops refer to the penal law in their jurisdictions (e.g. sections 130 and following in New York State) and to emphasize that sex crimes are against any innocent person, not only children! The Bishops would also do well to read laws on facilitating or aiding or abetting those who commit such crimes.

-The Cardinal complains with some merit, about the lack of distinction into the gravity of offenses committed. However, he offers little insight into what he considers “grave.” Felonies only? Misdemeanors? Does he think priests, given their responsibilities, should be held to a higher standard than the average person?

-The Cardinal raises the issue of retroactivity and the statute of limitations. Nowhere does he mention, much less address the problem of “recovered memory” which is especially problematic in these cases.

-The Cardinal asserts that some Bishops have overcooperated in turning over material to prosecutors and harmed confidentiality. He cites no examples. It is quite clear from the Boston experience (and elsewhere, e.g. Phoenix) that Bishops have tried to stonewall turning over needed material and that Judges (whose assessments we are to trust) have had to pry it from them.

-In discussing reinstatement, the Cardinal feels i

Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher | 6/22/2004 - 8:37pm
Certainly, Your Eminence, we must, as followers of Christ, extend mercy and the fullness of justice to those who have been accused and found guilty. And certainly, he who is accused should continue to enjoy the rights that are guaranteed by canon law: the right to canonical representation, the right to a full and thorough investigation of the allegation against him, and the right to the restoration of his good name if the allegations are found to be false. His privileges of title and clerical garb should not be denied him, and he should continue to receive financial support during the investigation.

However, during the investigation, he should be removed from active ministry just as any other citizen accused of child molestation is removed from the alleged victims to avoid trauma to them.

I would add that he should be strongly discouraged by his bishop and fellow priests from making statements about his accusers that characterize them as liars, crackpots, insane, greedy, etc. He should be strongly advised against encouraging a public consituency of friends and supporters to do the same. He should be provided with housing away from the parish or religious institution so as not to cause alarm or trauma to alleged victims. He should be provided with spiritual and psychological support to assist him with dealing with the effects of the accusation.

And, if after the investigation is complete, he is found to be a child molestor, he should be stripped of his title and ministerial duties, he should not be allowed to wear clerical garb, if he is not removed from the clerical state, he should be assigned to some sort of ecclesiastical penitentiary, or indeed, a civil penitentiary if the crime he committed is within the statute of limitations. He must never be allowed to be around children, youth or those who are vulnerable.

I am a survivor of clergy sexual abuse. I was abused by a seminarian when I was 11 years old. I do not have any memory more clear than what the abuser did to me 37 years ago, which I described in detail to the bishops of the United States, (including yourself) in Dallas on June 13, 2002.

Unfortunately, the criminal statute of limitations is long past. The abuser removed himself from active ministry to marry his pregnant mistress, his superior is a bishop in Mexico, who has no interest in removing him from the clerical state. So, Your Eminence, please put your mind at ease. At least one child molestor will not have to endure the unfair and harsh process that is mandated by the Charter and Essential Norms.

I however, must suffer for the rest of my life.

Sister Maureen Anne Turlish SNDdeN | 6/19/2004 - 6:28pm
Regarding Avery Dulles' "Rights of Accused Priests" (June 21-28, 2004):

Whose rights are we protecting anyway?

I have no problem with the due process rights of anyone. Would that all members of the Catholic Church were respected enough to be accorded access to them?

I seem to remember Sister Jeannine Gramick, Bernard Haring, Sister Barbara Fiand and the Reverend Tom Doyle. These aforementioned come to mind quickly as having been denied "due process" or having been "blackballed" when seeking employment within the church establishment. A little research would help me remember more, no doubt.

I received an early education in workers' rights having walked in my first picket line at age ten. My father, Paul Turlish, was a AFL-CIO Union President who succumbed to a heart attack in eleventh hour contract negotiations in Philadelphia in June of 1975. Father Dennis Comey S.J., a good friend and mentor, gave the eulogy at Dad's funeral.

I entered the religious community of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in August of 1960 at the age of 21, having been engaged to be married. I discussed with my fiancé why I thought God was calling me to the religious life. I remember that dinner at the William Penn Inn in Gwyneed Valley, Pennsylvania as if it were yesterday. It was not easy.

In other words, I don't think I entered religious life with the naiveté of a 16 year old high school graduate.

Having said all this, I want to express my utter disgust after reading Avery Dulles' pedantic "Rights of Accused Priests" (June 21-28, 2004).

How dare he speak so cavalierly about a "single offense, committed many decades ago, no matter what the mitigating circumstances," in regard to the sexual abuse of a child. Although I do not believe there are many, such individuals should be removed from active ministry, period. And "mitigating circumstances" brings tears to my eyes.

Explain that to me, Avery Dulles. Give me some examples of "mitigating circumstances."

I am as concerned as you about those falsely accused so I would suggest setting up a website, and start listing the names of all priests who have been deemed falsely accused and one can certainly start with Cardinal Joseph Bernadin and go from there. Fair is fair. But I doubt that this would even be considered because it risks the possibly of truly credible victims coming forward as well.

Is not murder of the soul a much more egregious crime than murder of the body? Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, MD is of that opinion. Yet there are no statute of limitations for the former; only for the latter. Why not? At least there should be no such limitations in church law.

It is abhorrent to suggest, as Dulles does, that these sexual abusive priests, after correction, should be welcomed back into their order "as full participating members, to the extent feasible."

A chief financial officer, having been found guilty of embezzling company funds or looting pension accounts, would not be welcomed back to his former position. The idea is ludicrous.

Closer to home, we would not allow a hockey coach to return to his former school position after finishing a jail term for the rape of student athletes. Why would we even consider the possibility in regard to priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse or molestation, regardless of whether or not they have served time in jail or have had statutes of limitation expire in regard to their perfidy?

Into society? Yes.

Into the church? To the communion rail? Yes and yes, but only with confession and penance.

As a priest? No.

I wonder if Avery Dulles has ever attend a SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) meeting; met with and listened to survivors of clergy sexual abuse? I have and that one meeting was the most spiritually and emotionally wrenching experience I can remember.

In all justice and charity, pa