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.