On the verge of tears, a sorrowful Boston Cardinal Bernard F. Law told more than 2,500 area Catholics who gathered March 9 to discuss clergy sex abuse of minors, "In my most horrible nightmares I would never have imagined that we would have come to the situation in which we've found ourselves." "I am so grateful to God for this opportunity today, to hear you, to listen to you and take to heart what it is that is in your heart," the cardinal added after sitting through a day of listening sessions at Convocation 2002 at Boston's World Trade Center.
The format of this year's convocation, the ninth annual meeting of church leaders and parish representatives from throughout the archdiocese, was changed to give representatives from the archdiocese's 300 parishes a chance to tell Cardinal Law what they thought about the growing clergy sex abuse scandal and what was needed to respond to it. "The object for today clearly was to commit a unique kind of sharing," Cardinal Law said at an afternoon session in which he responded to what he had been hearing that day. Earlier he attended a two-hour listening session with a delegate from each parish in the archdiocese. Five other regional sessions were held simultaneously.
Before the cardinal spoke at the afternoon plenary gathering, session recorders reported to the group what had transpired at the regional sessions. In his response Cardinal Law said, "I've heard a lot today ... feelings of anger; I have heard feelings of betrayal, of sadness, of bewilderment. And with great sensitivity and great delicacy, I've heard that that betrayal is a sense of betrayal by the church, the archdiocese, especially by me." He said he heard a "profound solidarity" with the victims of sexual abuse and spoke of a woman in his session who told of a family member who was sexually abused.
The 2,500 lay leaders, priests and women religious who gathered for Convocation 2002 included predesignated representatives from each parish, including representatives of pastoral councils, parish finance councils, professional and volunteer ministers and other lay leadership positions. It was the ninth year the convocation was held. With tight security throughout the convention center, and protesters lining the entranceway, the attendees, wearing ID badges, gathered at 8:45 a.m. for Mass with the cardinal.
"This year, our gathering is overshadowed by the tragedy of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy," Cardinal Law said. "For more than two months, we have been inundated by the media with details of that awful history. It has left us sad, it has left us angry and it has robbed us of that trust which, a short while ago, we took for granted." He clarified the current policy on clergy sexual abuse of minors and spelled out steps taken in recent months to strengthen it, stressing that protection of children is the central focus. "Our present policy, a policy which is enforced, does not permit a priest to be assigned to any position by the archdiocese where there has been a credible allegation concerning the sexual abuse of a minor," he said.
In his homily, given in English and Spanish, he said, "We experience today a dark, dark cloud. But with the hope born of God's word we say that as certain as the dawn is his coming." "It is not our works by which we are saved. ... It depends on what God makes possible in and through us," he said.
At the session with Cardinal Law, the parish representatives' comments covered a wide range of concerns, from anger, pain and frustration at church leadership to how good priests can be supported and protected from false accusations. A Merrimack Region representative said parishioners there do not feel the cardinal's "continued presence will serve us in the long run." A Central Region parish representative said a member of her family repeatedly was abused by her pastor. "There are many people you're not hearing from," including many who are too hurt to speak, she said.
Another representative from the Central Region said reparation for the victims is necessary but asked where the money for the settlements is coming from. She said child molesters need to be prosecuted and the whole issue of human sexuality, including homosexuality, needs to be looked at. She added that the role of women in the church needs to be reviewed.
Calling healing a responsibility of all, a representative of a South Region parish called for an open forum of governance involving lay men and women and said, "Together we can heal this moral outrage." A nun said she feels great shame, pain and powerlessness and called for a new model of church. "The male celibate hierarchical structure is falling apart," she said.
Several speakers asked the cardinal to step down. One said the archdiocese made not just "tragic mistakes" but a reckless decision. "We have somehow made the media out to be the problem but we wouldn't be here without the media. Your resignation is warranted and needed," said the North Region representative.
At the end Cardinal Law thanked the speakers for their candor. "It's not easy to stand up and say some of the things you've said." At the plenary session after lunch, Cardinal Law said among the messages he heard were calls for more openness in the church, greater support for parish priests, more effective communication and a greater involvement of the laity and women in the church. "I've heard a great deal and I need and I want more than the past hour or two to really take in what you have offered in these listening sessions," he said. He apologized for the broken trust that exists "because of decisions for which I was responsible." "With all my heart, I am sorry for that," he said.Editorial Says Questions About Priesthood Must Be Addressed
The scandals of clergy sex abuse of minors have raised questions among many Catholics about the priesthood, including priestly celibacy, that will not disappear, the Boston archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot, said in an editorial on March 15. The editorial made headlines nationwide, and some news reports interpreted it as an official Catholic newspaper’s challenge to church teachings and practices. Cardinal Bernard F. Law, The Pilot’s publisher, responded in a statement, The Pilot does not question the discipline of clerical celibacy. The full context of the editorial in question makes that abundantly clear. It is one thing to report the questions of others, it is quite another thing to make those questions one’s own.
The editorial said the scandals have raised serious questions in the minds of the laity that simply will not disappear.
It cited four questions in particular:
Should celibacy continue to be a normative condition for the diocesan priesthood in the Western [Latin] Church?
If celibacy were optional, would there be fewer scandals of this nature in the priesthood?
Does priesthood, in fact, attract a disproportionate number of men with a homosexual orientation?
Lastly, why are a substantial number of Catholics not convinced that an all-male priesthood was intended by Christ and is unchangeable?
The editorial did not attempt to answer the questions but urged more careful study of them.Archbishop Curtiss Reprimands Critical Parishioners
You should be ashamed of yourself! Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha, Neb., wrote to Jeanne Bast, an 80-year-old mother of 11 and a retired Catholic grade school teacher who publicly criticized the archbishop. The archbishop called another complaining parishioner a disgrace to the church.
Both had written letters to the editor of The (Omaha) World Herald objecting to the archbishop’s decision to assign a priest who had viewed child pornography on the Internet to St. Gerald parish in Ralston, where his duties included teaching religion at a Catholic middle school. They disagreed with the archbishop that the priest posed no threat to the children in the parish. Bast said that Archbishop Curtiss owed the people of the archdiocese an apology for not being truthful and forthright about the problem from the very beginning.
Archbishop Curtiss sent copies of his letter to their pastors and instructed both writers to say one Hail Mary for him as penance. I am surprised that a woman your age and with your background would write such a negative letter in the secular press against me without any previous dialogue, wrote the archbishop. The church has enough trouble defending herself against non-Catholic attacks without having to contend with disloyal Catholics.Canon Lawyers Urge Protection of Rights of All in Abuse Cases
The top leaders of the Canon Law Society of America have called on the U.S. bishops to safeguard the rights of both the accused and their accusers as the scandal over clergy sex abuse continues to unfold. The Rev. Kevin E. McKenna, president of the 1,800-member organization, and the Rev. Lawrence J. O’Keefe, vice president and president-elect, said, We respectfully request that the bishops and other church officials, in their dealings with civil authorities, continue to be sensitive to the rights of accused priests, who may be innocent and whose good name and reputation are in jeopardy. They called upon all parties to observe due process to aid both the accused and their accusers find justice and reconciliation.Vatican Official Says Clerical Sex Abuse Offends God, Children
The Vatican’s chief communications official said the real tragedy of clerical sex abuse is not the embarrassment caused to the church, but the grave offense against God and children. Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said he has suggested to Pope John Paul II that the church dedicate three days during Holy Week as a period of prayer and reparation for the tragic moral flaws revealed in the lives of some priests. Let us face the fact that we are living in sad days for the church, said the archbishop. He recounted that, when asked once by a cardinal what was the best defense against charges of sexual abuse against the clergy, he replied: Our best defense is virtueand, in the absence of virtue, candor.More U.S. Bishops Spell OutPolicies on Sex Abuse of Minors
Amid a flood of headlines about sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, some U.S. bishops are issuing stricter policies regarding priest-offenders and many are taking the occasion to review their rules and tell their people about the rules in place.
In Chicago, where the late Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin issued one of the most comprehensive abuse policies in the nation in 1992, Cardinal Francis E. George said the stories of ruined lives told by victims of clerical sex abuse "cry to heaven for vengeance." He had the 1992 policy reprinted in the March 17-30 edition of his archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic New World, along with a reprint of a column written then by Cardinal Bernardin. In his own column, Cardinal George summarized the key elements of the current policy. He said it seems to be working well, but in light of national stories in recent weeks he has called for a thorough review of the policy and its application and "a supplementary review of active cases to be sure that we are doing all that we can administratively to protect children and adolescents."
Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore republished his 1993 policy on child abuse cases in the March 14 issue of his archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Review. In his column preceding the policy statement, he referred to the new media reports of clerical sexual abuse as darkness "being brought to light." "The darkness has been exposed, and these are hard times for our church," he said.
New York archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling said Cardinal Edward M. Egan has made a change in archdiocesan reporting policies. The archdiocese used to advise alleged victims that they could report their complaint to law enforcement authorities. From now on, the archdiocese itself will report new incidents to civil authorities whenever the abuse victim permits it, Zwilling said.
In the neighboring Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., Bishop William E. Lori announced plans to create an independent, interdisciplinary advisory board "to help, on a case-by-case basis, in reviewing and investigating allegations of child sexual abuse; in responding to those allegations that are credible; and in helping the victims of that abuse." He noted that the diocese's 1991 child abuse and sexual harassment policy was revised in 2001 and one of his first acts after he was installed in Bridgeport in March 2001 was to implement the new policy. He issued a statement highlighting its main points and inviting people to read the entire policy on the diocese's Web site.
Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., said March 13 that his diocese's policies had been reviewed three times since they were established in 1992, but he has asked for another review by a group of outside experts and will revise them if there is reason to do so. "To the best of my knowledge, there is no one with a past record (of sexual abuse of a minor) who is now serving in the diocese," he said.
Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis, writing in his archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, reminded Catholics of his policies, updated three-and-a-half years ago, which include a requirement that all new employees attend workshops on sexual misconduct and boundary issues.
Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of Richmond, Va., addressed the issue in his regular column in The Catholic Virginian, his diocesan paper, in which he highlighted the main aspects of the Richmond policy, adopted in 1993 and refined in 1998. "Sexual abuse of a minor is truly the rape of a soul. ... Acts of pedophilia violate the very core of the victim's personhood," Bishop Sullivan wrote.
Archbishop John F. Donoghue of Atlanta wrote a letter to his people recalling the history of the Atlanta sexual abuse policy, developed in the late 1980s after a local priest was arrested -- and subsequently imprisoned -- for child molestation. He said the policy is now "being re-examined in light of the new disclosures outside of our archdiocese."
In the Diocese of Austin, Texas, a new "Ethics and Integrity in Ministry" policy was adopted at the start of the year and a daylong workshop on it was convened in late February. Bishop Gregory M. Aymond spoke at the start of the day. He called sexual abuse "one of the most difficult and most distasteful topics to talk about" but added, "We need to learn more about it, so that it does not continue in our homes, in our families, in our church."
In St. Louis, Archbishop Justin F. Rigali addressed the issue several times, beginning with a March 1 announcement that two pastors were being removed under a stricter new standard against returning former offenders to parish ministry. In the days that followed he addressed the issue in two letters, a column in his paper and an extended message sent to all parishes. Meeting with the priests of the archdiocese March 12, he said, "This has been the most difficult time in my sixteen-and-a-half years as a bishop." The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported March 15 that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce had spoken with the archbishop by telephone. Joyce said the two planned to meet soon "to see if anything warrants investigation by my office."
In Biloxi, Miss., Bishop Thomas J. Rodi announced a new sexual abuse policy March 13 and appointed seven people to an interdisciplinary advisory committee. The committee is to advise the diocesan vicar general, to whom any allegations must be brought.
Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee March 14 announced that he was forming a special task force "to examine our policies and how they have been implemented" and make recommendations for improvements.
Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli of Wilmington, Del., issued a statement apologizing for any misjudgments made by church authorities in the past in reassigning offending priests. "As we now know, in many instances such placements only served to create new victims and compound the damage," he said. He said the Wilmington policy established in 1985 has been reviewed and updated several times to "reflect the best current understanding of these issues."News Briefs
Fifty-six percent of Catholics polled by the Pew Research Center said church leaders have mostly tried to cover up the problem of sexual abuse by priests, while 32 percent said the leaders have mostly tried to deal with it.
The Vatican’s top ecumenist, Cardinal Walter Kasper, said the Russian Orthodox Church’s territorial claims are more ideological than theological and eventually lead to an ecclesial heresy that sees church mission confined by cultural and ethnic identities.
The F.B.I. said there were at least two Catholic priests among more than 89 people charged so far in Operation Candyman, a nationwide crackdown on the spread of child pornography on the Internet.
Expressing greatest concern for the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, the administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced that the nation’s bishops will seek to develop a comprehensive response on the national level when they meet in Dallas on June 13-15.
Pedophilia has become a true social plague because of the involvement of the Internet and organized crime, a Vatican official told a conference in Berlin on the sexual exploitation of children.