The National Catholic Review
From CNS, Staff and other sources
Bishops Weigh in on Clerical Sexual Abuse of Minors

A number of U.S. bishops reiterated or strengthened their policies against clerical sexual abuse of minors and several removed some of their priests from ministry in the wake of a growing national controversy over the issue that began in the Archdiocese of Boston. Its effects were first felt in other New England dioceses but then began spreading across the country, with cardinals from Washington, Philadelphia, Detroit and Los Angeles among the bishops who responded publicly.

The drama in Boston was sparked in large part by the criminal trial in January of a defrocked priest accused of molesting more than 130 children over a 30-year span and admissions that the archdiocese made mistakes in the past in dealing with clerical sex offenders.

In late January and early February Boston’s Cardinal Bernard F. Law banned 10 priests from any church work, citing a new “zero-tolerance” policy under which no priest can hold any post in the archdiocese if he has a credible allegation against him. The cardinal gave area prosecutors names of more than 80 archdiocesan priests or former priests who had one or more accusations of sexual abuse in their personnel records, some going back four decades. In early March he agreed to give prosecutors the names of those victims who agreed to be named and the names of the attorneys of those victims who did not want to be named.

In light of the events in Boston several other U.S. cardinals spoke out:

• Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia established a zero-tolerance policy and removed several priests with past allegations against them who had been allowed to return to limited, nonparish ministry. He issued a public apology to those abused by priests, saying a 50-year review of records revealed 35 priests accused of abuse by a total of 47 minors.

• Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said a zero-tolerance policy was already in effect in his archdiocese and added that any priest or deacon who abuses a minor should seek laicization, because he will never be allowed to return to ministry.

Numerous other bishops across the country took the occasion to restate the principal elements of their policies on preventing sexual abuse of children, reporting it when it occurs and dealing with victims, their families, affected parishes and the offender.

Some bishops, like Cardinals Law and Bevilacqua, removed past offenders who had been treated and previously allowed to return to ministry. Among these bishops was Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., who announced in February that no priest who has sexually abused a minor will be returned to ministry. Bishop McCormack, who heads the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, publicly named seven New Hampshire priests already barred from ministry because of allegations against them and announced the suspension of seven more. Of the seven newly suspended, only one held a parish assignment. The other six were retired or on sick leave but had been permitted to celebrate Mass before they were suspended.

The Diocese of Allentown, Pa., adopted a new zero-tolerance policy and removed four priests from their posts following a review of personnel records that showed they had engaged in sexual misconduct with minors in the past. The St. Louis Archdiocese said on March 2 that it had removed two pastors as a result of a tougher new policy, but The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that at least three other priests still active in the archdiocese have been accused in civil court of sexual abuse of minors.

The Los Angeles Times reported on March 4 that Cardinal Mahony in recent weeks had directed “at least half a dozen to 12 priests” to retire early or otherwise leave their ministries because of past incidents of sexual misconduct. The archdiocesan communications office had no comment on the report. The Times also reported that in the neighboring Diocese of Orange, Bishop Tod D. Brown, under a new zero-tolerance policy, removed a pastor from his post on March 3 because of sexual misconduct with a teenager 19 years ago.

Bishop Joseph J. Gerry of Portland, Me., released the names of two pastors who had been returned to ministry after receiving extended treatment more than 20 years ago, each after molesting a teenager. He left it to the respective parishes to decide whether they wanted the priests to stay or be removed. Bishop Gerry said no other currently active priests were ever accused of sexual abuse of a minor, but he agreed to turn over to a local district attorney the relevant personnel records of any retired or former priest who was ever accused of such abuse. The publicity surrounding the Maine cases led to two new claims of sexual abuse many years ago, both involving Maine priests who are no longer in active ministry.

Orthodox Patriarch Meets with Catholic Leaders in Washington

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople called for more grass-roots dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox at a meeting with top Catholic leaders in Washington, D.C. on March 6. The head of the Greek Orthodox Church and spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide also expressed hopes that the international Catholic-Orthodox theological commission will get past its current impasse over the status of the Eastern Catholic churches.

Vatican Backs U.S.F. on Institute; Ignatius Press Launches School

After the Vatican backed the University of San Francisco’s control of the St. Ignatius Institute, Ignatius Press announced that it was forming Campion College, a two-year college “embodying both the spirit and the curriculum of the original St. Ignatius Institute.” The St. Ignatius Institute was founded in 1976 by Joseph D. Fessio, S.J., a theology professor at the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco from 1975 to 1992.

Needs of U.S. Hispanics Spur Planning by U.S., Latin Bishops

The needs of U.S. Hispanic Catholics are prompting the hierarchies of Latin America and the United States to look at joint efforts to address those pastoral concerns, said church officials from both regions. Providing care for the growing number of Latin American immigrants to the United States has spurred U.S. calls for missionaries from Latin America. Church officials from both regions met in Bogotá from Feb. 26 to Feb. 28 to discuss ways of formalizing cooperation.

Pope Cancels Audience, Two More Parish Visits

Pope John Paul II skipped his March 6 general audience and two more Sunday parish visits in the hope that pain in his right knee would subside. Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said the papal schedule was changed “in consideration of the persistent painful symptomology of the right knee” experienced by the 81-year-old pope. The spokesman said the pope’s doctor had determined the pain was definitely due to arthrosis, a degenerative joint disease not uncommon in old age. The doctor advised rest “as the best way to treat the disturbance,” Navarro-Valls said.

Sisters’ Battle Over S.S.I. Payments Headed for Court

Despite two rulings to the contrary from an administrative law judge, a Social Security Administration Appeals Council maintains that a group of sisters’ payments were properly reduced seven years ago. The sisters were told their payments were cut because they are members of a religious community and have made a vow of poverty. Therefore, the Social Security Administration reasons, their community has an obligation in civil law to provide for their support.

“Our contention is that the Supplemental Security Income payments made to the sisters who reside in Marian Hall Home have been unjustly and illegally reduced,” said Mary Traupman, C.D.P., a lawyer who is preparing to fight for the sisters in federal court. In 2001 the reduction amounted to about $200 a month for each of the sisters. “They’re citizens, they’re sick, they’re old and they’re poor,” Sister Traupman said. And she believes they should be treated like other Marian Hall Home residents. “We bought in [to the Social Security system] in 1972,” Sister Traupman said. “Nobody said that in 1995 it would be different because you are sisters.”

Vatican on Gay Priests

Vatican sources said that in general, church leaders are pressing to ensure that men of permanent homosexual orientation are screened out as candidates for the priesthood. So far, this has been handled through prudent local decisions rather than explicit orders issued from the Vatican, they said. But it is a matter Vatican officials have emphasized to bishops in recent discussions on priestly vocations and seminary programs, the sources said. A new document on the issue also is being considered.

A study on the question of homosexual candidates to the priesthood was completed last year at the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, and sources said a set of guidelines for seminaries may follow. In January the same congregation examined proposed guidelines on psychological testing for seminary candidates. Church officials view homosexuality as a potential problem that could be disclosed by such testing. Last year a top Vatican doctrinal official spoke of the negative effects of homosexuality within the priesthood and said: “The Holy See views this as a very serious problem and is determined to take steps to correct it.”

Some church officials have questioned whether some ordinations might even be considered invalid because of homosexuality. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls was reported in The New York Times saying that such ordinations might be invalid. But the sources said that is not how the Vatican plans to approach the issue. For one thing, the validity of orders is a thorny question of church law that would in turn raise pastoral problems—such as the legitimacy of past sacramental acts carried out by a priest or bishop whose ordination was judged invalid.

Comments

(Rev.) Charles E. Irvin | 1/26/2007 - 2:53pm
To add to the tragedy of pedophile priests (Signs of the Times, 3/18), there have been no words of sorrow, no admissions of complicity, no words of compassion from the pope or his Vatican officials addressed directly to the victims (and their families) of sexual abuse by priests. The victims have been stonewalled and ignored. The only thing we hear about is damage to the church.

Pope John Paul II has repeatedly exhorted us that there is “no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness.” In order to make just amends, we must begin by doing our own penance at the highest level in the church. Anything less only adds to this continuing injustice that eats away at any credibility we may yet have.

James N. Gelson, S.J. | 1/26/2007 - 2:49pm
Regarding “Bishops Weigh in on Clerical Sexual Abuse of Minors” and “The Vatican on Gay Priests” (Signs of the Times, 3/18), and speaking from the pain of our diocese losing two bishops in a row to the scandal, I submit that promulgating banns for bishops could be a preventive medicine. Every edition of a Catholic newspaper in the country would have a little box: “The apostolic nuncio is considering nominating the following men for the rank of bishop. (List names and present addresses.) If anyone knows any reason why any of these men should not be elevated to the episcopacy, let him or her speak up now. The mailing address of the apostolic nuncio is printed below.” Prevalent in the corridors of power in our church is the temptation to clone oneself, body and soul. In secret. Where sin festers. The banns would send streams of fresh light and fresh air through those same corridors.

(Rev.) Charles E. Irvin | 1/26/2007 - 2:41pm
To add to the tragedy of pedophile priests (Signs of the Times, 3/18), there have been no words of sorrow, no admissions of complicity, no words of compassion from the pope or his Vatican officials addressed directly to the victims (and their families) of sexual abuse by priests. The victims have been stonewalled and ignored. The only thing we hear about is damage to the church.

Pope John Paul II has repeatedly exhorted us that there is “no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness.” In order to make just amends, we must begin by doing our own penance at the highest level in the church. Anything less only adds to this continuing injustice that eats away at any credibility we may yet have.

Peter J. Riga | 1/26/2007 - 2:56pm
One of the problems bishops in the past had controlling priest pedophiles was that Rome had tied their hands (Signs of the Times, 3/18). The defrocking of priests for serious sexual offenses was reserved to Rome; and since priests were thought to be priests forever, they had to be put somewhere, employed somewhere, because of the theology of priesthood. Therefore hide and transfer, coupled with the notion that a retreat (spiritual conversion) and transfer would solve the problem. Certainly before 1985 no one knew that pedophilia was an incurable condition, and local bishops were caught on the horns of a cruel dilemma when Rome refused to move from its position. Priests had to be put somewhere. Now we know, and there are no more excuses.

A priest against whom credible accusations of child abuse are made must be relieved immediately of his duties and the information reported to local authorities and to a special commission set up by each bishop for internal investigation. If either of these investigative bodies finds the priest guilty, the local bishop should defrock the priest and help him find another profession while also helping him to find appropriate psychological help. We are a forgiving but not a stupid church. Such people should never again be able to exercise ministry in the church.

No more cover-ups. No more transfers. No more putting up with priest pedophiles. A complete housecleaning is in order once and for all, but only after a fair and complete investigation and hearing.

Joe Peabody | 1/26/2007 - 3:31pm
The news item “Vatican on Gay Priests” (Signs of the Times, 3/18) was very surprising to me, since it seems to go against everything I’ve ever heard or read about our church’s understanding of the difference between homosexual orientation and homosexual acts. We are also, in this case, talking about men willing to make a public vow and commitment to celibacy. Why should the church screen out men of homosexual orientation on the basis of the type of temptation they are promising to resist? Nobody can choose what sins they will be tempted to commit.

By the way, as a practical matter, if the church ever did get rid of all the homosexually oriented priests, it would be a major tragedy in at least two ways. It would rob us of thousands of conscientious, faith-filled, loving, caring, chaste priests. It would punish countless men who, having accepted the church’s judgment regarding their sexuality, decided to stay in and play by the rules. These gay men were (and are) willing to sacrifice all possibility of sexual fulfillment for the sake of service to God, just as straight priests do.

Why would our church want to squander this selflessly given gift?

Catherine O’Conor | 1/26/2007 - 2:58pm
From reports in your publication, as well as many others, it appears that the acknowledgment of sexual abuse by the Archdiocese of Boston is resulting in a witch hunt (Signs of the Times, 3/18). This concerns me, because I do not believe any good will be accomplished through the current prevailing attitude of “get even.” Having worked for many years with victims/survivors of abuse, I am acutely aware of the individual’s need to confront the abuse within the self, to speak about it, to feel the anger deep within, to grieve the loss of innocence resulting from it and to go beyond it into today. What happened 20, 30 or 40 years ago is relevant only to those individuals who have not dealt with it within themselves in a healthy way and to those who perpetrated the abuse. Individuals who have done the necessary healing work are living full lives today, regretting the past, not needing to shut the door on it and also not needing to dwell on it.

Also, the attitude of the hierarchy that financial settlements or hierarchical statements from the pulpit or in the news media will truly benefit the victims or cure the illnesses resulting from the abuse is misguided, to say the least. Perhaps the victims would be better served by having appropriate therapy, paid for by the diocese, support groups sponsored by the diocese and other forums for greater understanding of the dynamics and effects. The public dismissal of priests who perpetrated the abuse, the shunning of them in many dioceses will only push individuals further into secrecy. Parish/academic work would be inappropriate for those individuals who are pedophiles. But there are ministries within the framework of the church that would allow them to make amends for their sins/crimes and also to go on. If approached by victims, these men could also be willing to listen, to accept responsibility and to help in any way they can.

The other piece of this witch-hunt attitude is the confusion between pedophilia and homosexuality. It has come to my attention that some believe the vow of celibacy is at the root of the sexual abuse of children, or that individuals who are pedophiles are homosexual. Neither is true or accurate. Pedophiles are incapable of an intimate/fulfilling sexual relationship with any adult. Many professionals consider them asexual in that sense. Mature homosexuals do not prey on children/adolescents for sexual pleasure. They find it in healthy relationships with other adults of the same gender, or they remain celibate by choice. So a gay priest is no more likely to be a pedophile than is a heterosexual priest.

Thomas H. Elliott | 1/26/2007 - 2:57pm
So the “church leaders” want to screen out homosexuals as candidates for the priesthood (Signs of the Times, 3/18). To what is this a response? Abuse of minors? Then they had better screen out heterosexual men as well. Girls are abused right along with boys. Consensual sex with adults? Then they had better screen out heterosexual men as well. Some straight priests have affairs with women, just as some gay priests have affairs with men. Pedophilia is not about sex, nor is violating one’s vow of chastity (be it a vow of matrimony or ordination). Healthy humans, straight or gay, do not use other humans as objects of gratification. So screening should be done on the basis of mental health, not sexual orientation. Measuring life on a yardstick, sexual orientation accounts for about three inches—hardly significant. The sexual orientation of a priest should be completely irrelevant.

Fr. John F. Meyers | 3/12/2002 - 12:12pm
“...Certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith...” (I Tim.1:19)

The media stories in recent weeks have brought to public attention both sexual misconduct by members of the clergy and attempts to cover up or otherwise deny this reality by others in authority in the Catholic Church. The pain of victims, the shock, anger, and shame experienced by so many of us who have committed our lives to this institution are far reaching and threaten to nullify much of the good accomplished by the Church while bringing our claim to respect for human life and dignity into ridicule in the public forum. What are we to do? How can we respond to restore integrity in line with the full message of the Gospel? How do we address the wounds caused by all of the above?

Jesus says in Matthew 18 a number of things worth our attention and meditation: “...It would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me, to be drowned by a millstone around his neck, in the depths of the sea. What terrible things will come on the world through scandal! It is inevitable that scandal should occur. Nonetheless, woe to that man through whom scandal comes!” (v. 6-7) Certainly, sexual abuse of children and young people qualifies as scandalous behavior. Attempts to keep such awful deeds from coming to the light, presumably to avoid scandal, actually lead to a greater scandal. The dignity of the priesthood is not really protected, nor that of the victims. So, what is gained? Nothing compared to how much is lost in the long run. Damage control is not a Gospel value.

“If your hand or foot is your undoing, cut it off and throw it from you...” (v.8-9) The expulsion of clergy involved in sexual misconduct or its subsequent cover-up seems to fit this scriptural image quite well. But is it really that simple? Amputees are no more virtuous than those of us whose bodies are intact. And once you start cutting, how do you know when to stop? Further, what happens to these men once they leave? They don’t disappear, certainly.

Both the perpetration of sexual abuse and attempts to cover it are abuses of power. It is this abuse of power that is at the heart of both the problem and I believe that by addressing this issue we will find an adequate solution. Consider the following:

· A young man enters the seminary in order to explore and prepare for ordination to the priesthood. What are his experiences of authority? Do those in charge act the part of “privileged betters” or are they openly humble servants of a truth and mystery that is beyond us all to comprehend (or deserve to share)? Do they embody the virtues that are to be taught to seminarians? How are mistakes or failures on the part of faculty and administration handled? How is he challenged and encouraged to personal maturity and integrity except for seeing it in those who care for him? Elsewhere in Matthew 13 are some rules for fraternal correction. Are these standard procedures for all members of the seminary community? · Upon ordination a great gift and call are given. Will the newly ordained priest find in his first assignment a pastor who is a shepherd or a CEO? Will he be asked to set aside his pastoral/missionary zeal for the sake of institutional considerations? Will integrity and Gospel-centered values be reflected in the living and working arrangements that are established in the rectory? · In the sanctuary and in the confessional it is quite easy for a priest to feel powerful, even bigger than life. His presence, his words, and his actions are regarded so highly by the people. Will he develop a greater humility or a delusion of omnipotence? Will his contact with people in pastoral situations lead him to greater reverence for the dignity of each person or will he feel somehow superior to them because of his knowledge or skill in resolving problems? Will celibacy degenerate into bachelorhood over time or will it feed his hu

Mary Valenti | 3/11/2002 - 4:30pm
I feel compelled to write this letter in defense of all the good, faithful, caring and loving priests and religious, the shepherds of our Catholic Church.

The recent publicity concerning the horrible acts of priests (pedophiles) in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, is in fact deserved. But, keep in mind that MOST of our priests are in fact wonderful men who by definition are in the business of saving souls. To say that the underlying reason for these terrible acts is celibacy is ridiculous.

Why is it so hard to believe that a man who stands before the Bishop and promises to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom and the people of God, cannot do that? Are our morals so extinct that we do not understand what fidelity is?

At home, and at work, I see and hear of many acts of kindness, faith, love and charity administered by a priest each day. The priests in my parish and those I work with are wonderful.

Priests are on call 24 hours a day. They celebrate the Mass each day. People who are hurting turn to a priest for a kind word, a reminder that our Lord forgives and loves us no matter what we have done or do, they listen with a compassionate heart. A priest visits the sick, and dying. They visit the incarcerated and much more. They help couples preparing to celebrate the sacrament of matrimony, and parents wanting to baptize their children, at the schools they teach the catechism and most important by example. Sometimes a priest is even asked to help fill out immigration papers, and housing applications.

You hear only the bad things in the press, but I wanted to share a few of the good.

Defend our Church, our priests, religious, and most of all serve our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Fr. John F. Meyers | 3/12/2002 - 12:12pm
“...Certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith...” (I Tim.1:19)

The media stories in recent weeks have brought to public attention both sexual misconduct by members of the clergy and attempts to cover up or otherwise deny this reality by others in authority in the Catholic Church. The pain of victims, the shock, anger, and shame experienced by so many of us who have committed our lives to this institution are far reaching and threaten to nullify much of the good accomplished by the Church while bringing our claim to respect for human life and dignity into ridicule in the public forum. What are we to do? How can we respond to restore integrity in line with the full message of the Gospel? How do we address the wounds caused by all of the above?

Jesus says in Matthew 18 a number of things worth our attention and meditation: “...It would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me, to be drowned by a millstone around his neck, in the depths of the sea. What terrible things will come on the world through scandal! It is inevitable that scandal should occur. Nonetheless, woe to that man through whom scandal comes!” (v. 6-7) Certainly, sexual abuse of children and young people qualifies as scandalous behavior. Attempts to keep such awful deeds from coming to the light, presumably to avoid scandal, actually lead to a greater scandal. The dignity of the priesthood is not really protected, nor that of the victims. So, what is gained? Nothing compared to how much is lost in the long run. Damage control is not a Gospel value.

“If your hand or foot is your undoing, cut it off and throw it from you...” (v.8-9) The expulsion of clergy involved in sexual misconduct or its subsequent cover-up seems to fit this scriptural image quite well. But is it really that simple? Amputees are no more virtuous than those of us whose bodies are intact. And once you start cutting, how do you know when to stop? Further, what happens to these men once they leave? They don’t disappear, certainly.

Both the perpetration of sexual abuse and attempts to cover it are abuses of power. It is this abuse of power that is at the heart of both the problem and I believe that by addressing this issue we will find an adequate solution. Consider the following:

· A young man enters the seminary in order to explore and prepare for ordination to the priesthood. What are his experiences of authority? Do those in charge act the part of “privileged betters” or are they openly humble servants of a truth and mystery that is beyond us all to comprehend (or deserve to share)? Do they embody the virtues that are to be taught to seminarians? How are mistakes or failures on the part of faculty and administration handled? How is he challenged and encouraged to personal maturity and integrity except for seeing it in those who care for him? Elsewhere in Matthew 13 are some rules for fraternal correction. Are these standard procedures for all members of the seminary community? · Upon ordination a great gift and call are given. Will the newly ordained priest find in his first assignment a pastor who is a shepherd or a CEO? Will he be asked to set aside his pastoral/missionary zeal for the sake of institutional considerations? Will integrity and Gospel-centered values be reflected in the living and working arrangements that are established in the rectory? · In the sanctuary and in the confessional it is quite easy for a priest to feel powerful, even bigger than life. His presence, his words, and his actions are regarded so highly by the people. Will he develop a greater humility or a delusion of omnipotence? Will his contact with people in pastoral situations lead him to greater reverence for the dignity of each person or will he feel somehow superior to them because of his knowledge or skill in resolving problems? Will celibacy degenerate into bachelorhood over time or will it feed his hu

Mary Valenti | 3/11/2002 - 4:30pm
I feel compelled to write this letter in defense of all the good, faithful, caring and loving priests and religious, the shepherds of our Catholic Church.

The recent publicity concerning the horrible acts of priests (pedophiles) in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, is in fact deserved. But, keep in mind that MOST of our priests are in fact wonderful men who by definition are in the business of saving souls. To say that the underlying reason for these terrible acts is celibacy is ridiculous.

Why is it so hard to believe that a man who stands before the Bishop and promises to be celibate for the sake of the Kingdom and the people of God, cannot do that? Are our morals so extinct that we do not understand what fidelity is?

At home, and at work, I see and hear of many acts of kindness, faith, love and charity administered by a priest each day. The priests in my parish and those I work with are wonderful.

Priests are on call 24 hours a day. They celebrate the Mass each day. People who are hurting turn to a priest for a kind word, a reminder that our Lord forgives and loves us no matter what we have done or do, they listen with a compassionate heart. A priest visits the sick, and dying. They visit the incarcerated and much more. They help couples preparing to celebrate the sacrament of matrimony, and parents wanting to baptize their children, at the schools they teach the catechism and most important by example. Sometimes a priest is even asked to help fill out immigration papers, and housing applications.

You hear only the bad things in the press, but I wanted to share a few of the good.

Defend our Church, our priests, religious, and most of all serve our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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