Signs of the Times

U.S. Cardinals Meet in Rome

The sexual abuse of minors is rightly considered a crime by society and is an appalling sin in the eyes of God, said a communiqué issued at the conclusion of an extraordinary two-day meeting between American prelates and the Vatican officials on April 23-24. It also called for national standards that would be binding on all U.S. bishops and for an expedited procedure for dismissing abusive priests from the priesthood. The Americans at the meeting included the president and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and all of the American cardinals except Cardinal James Hickey, the retired archbishop of Washington, who was ill. Attending for the Vatican were the secretary of state and the cardinals heading the offices that deal with bishops, clergy, doctrine and seminaries.

There is a need to convey to the victims and their families a profound sense of solidarity and to provide appropriate assistance in recovering faith and receiving pastoral care, continued the communiqué. It also called for a national day of prayer and penance in reparation for the offenses. The cardinals echoed the pope in saying, People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young. At the same time, they spoke of the power of Christian conversion, that radical decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which reaches the depths of a person’s soul and can work extraordinary change.


There appears to be consensus among the American cardinals about expelling from the priesthood any future offenders. Looking to the future, said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington at the conclusion of the meeting, I would say it is pretty clear the Holy Father is calling for zero tolerance.... From here on in, there is no place in the priesthood for someone who would do such a thing.

There is also a consensus that anyone who is thought to be a danger to children should not be in ministry. But there is disagreement over what to do with a priest who was involved in non-serial abuse 20 or 30 years ago and has not offended again. Bishop Wilton Gregory, U.S.C.C.B. president and bishop of Bellville, Ill., said he favored their exclusion from ministry. Others would prefer to submit such cases to review by a lay board, which would determine if and under what conditions such a priest could continue ministry (for example, allowing no unsupervised contact with minors; informing those to whom he ministers of his crime; limiting his ministry to convents, office work or the like). The consensus has moved away from leaving such decisions to the local bishop alone.

In comparison with the guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse issued by the U.S. bishops in 1992, the proposals in the communiqué are stricter in two ways. First, they would be binding. And second, they speak of dismissing from the priesthood, not simply relieving the offender of ministerial duties. (The 1992 guidelines and communiqué are posted at

Although it is not mentioned in the communiqué, the inclusion of laypersons in the decision-making process also seems to be gaining wide agreement among American prelates. Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and one of the top-ranking Americans in the Vatican, said he found that concern for a greater role by the laity pervaded the two days of discussions.

The communiqué also notes that almost all the cases involved adolescents and therefore were not cases of true pedophilia. The meeting affirmed that a link between celibacy and pedophilia cannot be scientifically maintained and reaffirmed the value of priestly celibacy as a gift of God to the church.

The prelates joined the pope in saying, neither should we forget the immense spiritual, human and social good that the vast majority of priests and religious in the United States have done and are still doing.

The communiqué recommended that the pastors of the church need clearly to promote the correct moral teaching of the church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care.

Some people objected that there was not a strong enough apology to the victims coming from the pope and the cardinals for the failures of the bishops to handle abusing priests properly. In his opening address, the pope acknowledged that many are offended at the way in which the church’s leaders are perceived to have acted in this matter. Although the joint communiqué did not mention any failings on the part of the bishops, the letter to priests from the American prelates said, We regret that episcopal oversight has not been able to preserve the church from this scandal.

At Vatican, Issue of Gay Priests Draws Unexpected Attention

The issue of homosexuality among U.S. priests drew unexpectedand for some people, unwelcomeattention during a U.S.-Vatican summit on clerical sex abuse. Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told a press conference on April 23 that it was an ongoing struggle to ensure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men. He said there are difficulties in seminary life and in recruiting when a seminary has a homosexual atmosphere or dynamic that makes heterosexual young men think twice before entering, either because they do not want to be identified with a gay culture or would feel harassed. He said U.S. seminaries have worked especially hard since the mid-1980’s to make sure that priesthood candidates are healthy in every possible waypsychologically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Bishop Gregory’s remarks came after the opening session of a two-day meeting between U.S. and Vatican officials, who were discussing how to respond to the cases of sex abuse that have come to light in the United States.

His comments drew immediate criticism from Dignity, an unofficial support group for gay Catholics and their families that opposes church teaching on homosexuality. Marianne Duddy, executive director of the U.S.-based organization, said Bishop Gregory’s comments signal that a witch hunt to oust gay priests may be the bishops’ next move, including rejection of any further gay applicants to Catholic seminaries. She said that as the church faced the crisis of sex abuse, it appeared that its leaders were willing to sacrifice its gay priests.

In a recent interview with Catholic News Service, Bishop Gregory made clear that the issue of celibacy for priests applies to homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. He said one question the church should also be asking is: How do we support those priests who may have the homosexual orientation and have been absolutely faithful to the church in every regard? In that interview, Bishop Gregory said that in his opinion the question of homosexuality in the priesthood should not necessarily be linked to the sex abuse issue. But some church officials chose to raise it or address it on the occasion of the U.S.-Vatican summit.

U.S. Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, a top Vatican official, told CNS on April 19 that the vast majority of recently reported sex abuse cases in the United States involved homosexual activity by priests, not child abuse in the strict sense. I think it’s a misnomer, really, to call [the problem] child abuse. I think it’s more of an acting out homosexually, said Cardinal Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and former archbishop of Denver. He said recently reported cases that involve pedophilia, or attraction to pre-pubescent children, are a significant minority, and to focus on those is, I think, to blur the reality.

Cardinal Adam J. Maida of Detroit made a similar statement to CNN, saying that behavioral scientists are telling’s not truly a pedophilia-type problem, but a homosexual-type problem. He said the church has to look at this homosexual element as it exists, to what extent it is operative in our seminaries and our priesthood and how to address it.

Others, like Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, have said the main issue is not sexual orientation but whether a priesthood candidate was acting out sexually. Many Vatican officials view homosexuality as a factor in the sex abuse cases and have noted that most publicized cases of sex abuse by clergy against minors have involved homosexual acts. In March the Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, caused a stir when he said that people with [homosexual] inclinations just cannot be ordained. He added that this does not imply a final judgment on homosexuals. For several years, the Vatican has quietly been studying whether to address formally the question of homosexuality in the priesthood in a set of norms or a document. Recently, it began drafting guidelines on more general psychological screening of seminarians.

News Briefs

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has expanded the conference’s Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse and named Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis as its new chairman [see Archbishop Flynn’s article in Am., 4/22].

If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry, wrote Cardinal Edward M. Egan in a letter read in New York parishes on April 21.

Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz of Anchorage, Alaska, said he was impressed by the upbeat spirit and lots of positive energy generated among 1,100 delegates at the Third Continental Congress on Vocations in Montreal on April 18-21.

Vox Clara (Clear Voice), a 12-bishop committee established by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments to assist in examining English-language liturgical translationsheld its inaugural meeting in Rome on April 22-24. Four U.S. bishops were among the committee members: Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile, Ala., who was named vice chairman; Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago; Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans; and Archbishop Justin F. Rigali of St. Louis.

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