Signs of the Times

Marchers Come to Washington to Tell The Truth About Abortion’

In the shadow of the Washington Monument, tens of thousands of marchers gathered to hear a diverse collection of political and religious leaders speak about one goal. We are here to tell America the truth about abortion, said Nellie Gray, founder of the annual March for Life. At the 29th annual observance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion, President Bush spoke to the marchers via telephone from West Virginia, where he was visiting a manufacturing plant to talk about the economy. This marks 30 years of marching for life, a great example of an inspiring commitment, he said. Everybody there believes, as I do, that every life is valuable, he continued, that our society has a responsibility to defend the vulnerable and weak, the imperfect and even unwanted, and that our nation should set a great goalthat unborn children should be welcomed in life and protected in law.

Vatican Ratifies U.N. Convention Blocking Biological Weapons

The Vatican, citing a new global danger since Sept. 11, has ratified a U.N. convention prohibiting the development, production and stockpiling of biological weapons. The Biological Weapons Convention, drafted in 1971, has been ratified by more than 150 countries, including the United States. But last year the Bush administration rejected a draft international protocol that would have put verification and enforcement measures in place. After recently ratifying the U.N. convention, the Holy See left a statement with U.S. authorities underlining the need to promote practical implementation of its provisions, the Vatican said.


A.C.L.U. Report on Conscience Clauses Draws Catholic Reaction

Catholic leaders strongly objected to a new report that claims women’s lives are put at risk by conscience clauses that permit Catholic hospitals to refuse to perform certain medical procedures on religious grounds. The report by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project was released on Jan. 22, the 29th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Titled Religious Refusals and Reproductive Rights, the report said, As more hospitals are managed by religious entities and more states adopt broad refusal clauses allowing health care providers to deny treatment on the basis of religious or moral objections, more women are harmed and more physicians find themselves thwarted in their efforts to care for their patients.

U.S. Ambassador Urges China to Release Bishop, Others

The U.S. ambassador to China has urged China to release a bishop and several others on humanitarian and medical grounds. Ambassador Clark Randt made the appeal on Jan. 21 at a luncheon meeting in Hong Kong, where he talked about U.S.-China relations.

The event was sponsored by the Asia Society and the American Chamber of Commerce, reported UCA News. Randt noted U.S. President George W. Bush’s grave personal concern over the case of Hong Kong businessman Lai Kwong-keung, who was arrested in Fuqing in May. Lai was arrested for allegedly attempting to smuggle 16,280 Bibles to mainland China, but reportedly was charged under an anticult law that could lead to the death penalty. Randt also asked for the release of a Catholic bishop, James Su Zhemin of Baoding, who reportedly is in poor health.

U.S. Paved Way for Vatican Norms on Sex Abuse Crimes

The Vatican’s new worldwide norms for criminal procedures in the church’s handling of sexual abuse of minors by priests are remarkably similar to special norms the U.S. bishops pushed for and received in the 1990’s. The world’s bishops learned of new Vatican norms last summer through a letter from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explaining their content.

In January an informed Vatican source said that the doctrinal congregation intends to allow the U.S. bishops to continue following the special U.S. norms with regard to diocesan priests accused of sexual abuse of minors, but if a U.S. priest in a religious order faces such an accusation, his case will be handled under the new Vatican norms. The U.S. norms grew out of concern on the part of the nation’s bishops that some aspects of church law sharply limited their ability to deal adequately with some priests who had sexually abused minors.

For example, church law defines a minor as someone under the age of 16, while anyone under 18 is a minor in U.S. law. If a priest engaged in sexual relations with a 16-year-old, he could face statutory rape charges in the state, but under general church law his action would not be a crime -- a serious sin, but not a crime. One of the special norms the U.S. bishops obtained in 1994 was a provision that church penalties for clerical sexual abuse of a minor apply up to the age of 18. One of the new Vatican norms does the same thing. Throughout the world now, any priest who sexually abuses anyone under 18 is subject to church trial and punishment for such an act. For all other purposes, church law continues to regard 16 as the age of majority.

Like civil law, church law has a statute of limitations prohibiting prosecution or the imposition of penalties for a crime committed many years earlier. For most ecclesiastical crimes, prosecution must be initiated within three years under general church law; for some especially grave crimes, including homicide, kidnapping and clerical sexual abuse of a minor, it is five years. The Code of Canon Law has an exception clause allowing a different statute of limitations to be set for crimes reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Because sexually abused children often repress their memories of the experience or are too traumatized to speak about it for many years, many U.S. states have modified their statutes of limitations for those crimes. In some states the time clock does not start to tick until the abused child, as an adult, remembers the abuse.

The U.S. bishops sought a special provision allowing them to try a cleric accused of sexually abusing a minor up until the victim's 23rd birthday or until two years after the bishop first "receives information which at least seems to be true" alleging such abuse. The 23rd birthday clause would use the five-year limitation on such crimes given in the Code of Canon Law, but it would delay the start of the time clock until the child became an adult at age 18. The bishops' other proposal, allowing even later prosecution if the first accusation came later, would deal with the possibility that a repressed memory of childhood abuse may not surface until much later in the victim's life. The pope accepted the U.S. proposal only in a modified way. As approved, the special norms for the United States permit prosecution up to the victim's age of 28--10 years after reaching adulthood. A transitional norm allows prosecution up to the victim's age of 23 for those crimes committed before the new norms took effect.

The U.S. norms also include a special provision for crimes first reported within the final year of the statute of limitations: If reported between the victim's 27th and 28th birthday, the crime can be prosecuted for up to a year after it is first reported. There is no further extension, however, for allegations that surface more than 10 years after the victim has become an adult.

Following the precedent set by the special U.S. norms, the new Vatican norms provide a 10-year statute of limitations for all crimes reserved to the doctrinal congregation. Also following the U.S. precedent, the new Vatican norms add a provision that the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the victim's 18th birthday for clerical sexual crimes with a minor. The Vatican norms do not incorporate the U.S. provision for crimes reported in the final year before the victim's 28th birthday.

Pope John Paul approved the special U.S. norms for a five-year period in 1994, beginning April 25 of that year. When that period was about to expire, he approved a 10-year extension, making them effective until April 24, 2009.

At the time the U.S. norms were adopted, the Roman Rota was the presumed court in Rome to which a diocesan court decision could be appealed. But the U.S. norms included no special provisions for such appeals, so the new Vatican norms clearly make the doctrinal congregation the only court of appeal for such cases from now on.

If the U.S. norms remain in effect for sexual abuse of minors cases involving U.S. diocesan priests, however, certain provisions of the new Vatican norms apparently would not apply to those cases. For example, the special U.S. norm extending the statute of limitations for cases reported between the victim's 27th and 28th birthday would apparently remain in effect.

For another example, according to the doctrinal congregation's 2001 letter, the new Vatican norms require a bishop to notify the congregation whenever he "has at least probable knowledge of a reserved delict (crime), after he has carried out the preliminary investigation." After reviewing the report, the congregation could then order the diocesan court to proceed with case or could decide, "because of special circumstances," to try the case itself. If the U.S. norms remain in effect, however, the diocesan court would apparently retain first jurisdiction over the case, without going through a prior report to and review by the doctrinal congregation. Similarly when a case reserved to the doctrinal congregation arises, the congregation said it may send "appropriate norms" to a local court when ordering it to try a case. What such norms might be or how they might differ from general church law on judicial proceedings was not clear, but presumably no such special norms would come into play in a case tried under the U.S. norms. The disposition of such issues could depend on what is said in any official Vatican communication on the matter with the U.S. bishops.

Vietnam Bishops Present Upbeat Report on Church Life to Vatican

In meetings during January with Vatican officials, Vietnam’s bishops presented their most upbeat report in decades on church life in their country. In the past five years, Vietnam’s church membership has grown by more than 14 percent, and some dioceses have more priestly vocations than they need, the bishops said. And though they said Vietnam’s Communist government still restricts many areas of church activity, the bishops cautiously hailed what they viewed as recent signs of an increase in religious freedom. In fact, they said, this was the first time all the bishops were allowed to come to Rome for their five-year ad limina visits. In past years, the government denied exit visas to some of the bishops.

Jesuit Priest to Fill in at EWTN for Ailing Mother Angelica

Mitch Pacwa, S.J., who taught at the University of Dallas, is taking on a permanent role at the Eternal Word Television Network, which will include filling in for the ailing Mother Angelica. Mother Angelica, 78, remained in fair condition at a Birmingham, Ala., hospital after suffering a stroke, her second, on Dec. 24.

Doctrinal Congregation Examines Issues of Eucharist, Natural Law

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is setting its sights on two new themes suggested by Pope John Paul II: the theology of the Eucharist and the weakening of natural law in contemporary society, a top Vatican official said. The themes were among a number of topics discussed at the congregation’s plenary session at the Vatican from Jan. 15 to Jan. 18. The congregation’s memberscardinals, archbishops and bishops from around the worldalso reviewed the way the congregation has dealt with theologians when investigating their work for possible errors or misinterpretations.

Before the meeting the secretary of the congregation, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, said that the main dangers in theological research today are in two areas: correctly interpreting sacred Scripture, a task that he said cannot be removed from the context of faith; and the relationship between theology and the church’s teaching authority, or magisterium. There exists the tendency to remove, I would say to obliterate, the magisterium of the church. The magisterium is an important element, an inescapable point of reference, which is essential for theological research and theological teaching, he said.

The archbishop said theologians are called upon to work together with the teachers of the faiththe pope and bishops in communion with him. The theologian’s task is to help deepen the church’s understanding of certain arguments, but without denying or ignoring the magisterium, he said.

Cardinal Apologizes for Priest Sex Abuse, Sets Zero-Tolerance Rule

At a press conference on Jan. 9, Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston apologized for past sexual abuse of children by priests and said his archdiocese is committed to a zero-tolerance policy on such abuse. Any priest known to have sexually abused a minor simply will not function as a priest in any way in this archdiocese, he said. Although Massachusetts exempts clergy from its mandatory reporting law on allegations of abuse against a minor, Cardinal Law announced a new archdiocesan policy that will mandate all clergy, employees and volunteers to report [to civil authorities] any allegations of abuse against a minor.... In particular, this mandated reporting would include any knowledge of abuse learned by a priest outside of the sacrament of penance or through spiritual counseling.

John Geoghan, a defrocked priest of the Archdiocese of Boston accused of molesting more than 130 children, was found guilty on Jan. 18 of indecent assault and battery on a 10-year-old boy. In addition, he faces a second trial in late February on charges of raping a minor.

Liturgical Reforms Need Reform, Says Cardinal Ratzinger

The head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation told a French newspaper it was time to reform the reform of the liturgy made during the Second Vatican Council. While the reforms had brought many beautiful things, the liturgy should return to more traditional practices, said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. To help people live the liturgy to the fullest, we must guard them against temptations, Cardinal Ratzinger said. The desire for creativity in the liturgy has been fostered by a wish for self-expression among communities. Many people are complaining that no two Masses are alike and asking whether a Catholic liturgy any longer exists, the cardinal told La Croix, a French Catholic daily.

He said he was concerned that the grandeur of the church would be lost if a more traditional approach did not return to the liturgy. I am obviously for Vatican II, which has brought us many beautiful things. But to declare it insurpassable and to judge unacceptable all reflection on what we should retrieve from church historythis is a sectarian attitude I cannot accept, the cardinal said.

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