Signs of the Times

Joint Group Proposes Draft Revisions to Sex Abuse Norms

After a two-day meeting in Rome, a Vatican-U.S. commission has drafted proposed revisions to the U.S. bishops’ norms on clerical sexual abuse cases. A Vatican statement on Oct. 30 said the commission’s suggestions would be discussed at the plenary meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 11-14. Once approved by the U.S. bishops, a revised policy will be forwarded to the Vatican for final approval or recognitio, it said.

The Vatican’s terse, three-line statement gave no details of the commission’s meeting on Oct. 29-30. Nor did it say what revisions were proposed to the Essential Norms for sex abuse cases or to the bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, a U.S. member of the commission, said, We believe that the goals of the Dallas decision, i.e. to protect minors and to reach out to victims, have been preserved and that the Dallas documents have been completed in elaborating normative procedures that respect the rights of priests who have been accused.


Heavy Agenda for Bishops’Meeting In November

A list of the topics coming up at the fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops indicates that the bishops will have a heavy agenda when they meet in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 11-14. The fall assembly will be asked to take action on a range of issues from migration to poverty, from abortion to diocesan financial reporting, from liturgy to Hispanic ministry. The joint commission of Vatican and U.S. prelates will also report its recommendations on the norms that came out of the bishops’ meeting on sexual abuse held in Dallas in June. There will also be a report on the work of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, which in June was asked to address several issues in time for the fall meeting.

A proposal to call a plenary council of the U.S. church, signed by more than 50 bishops this summer, will not be brought to a vote in November, but an ad hoc committee is to study the question and make a report on it during the meeting.

The agenda will include:

A pastoral letter concerning migration, to be jointly issued by the bishops of the United States and Mexico. If this is approved, it will be the first joint pastoral letter by the Mexican and U.S. hierarchies in history.

A document titled A Place at the Table: A Catholic Commitment to Overcome Poverty and Respect the Dignity of All God’s Children. Sources said this will focus on raising awareness in U.S. Catholic parishes of the ongoing issues of poverty at home and abroad.

A statement marking the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the January 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down laws restricting abortion.

A document on diocesan financial issues to help dioceses in financial reporting.

Several items pertaining to the church’s liturgy. These include an English translation of the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal; a revised English translation of the ordination rites; and a decision on the proposed survey instrument to assess the reception of the new Lectionary texts whose use has been mandatory throughout the country since Pentecost 2002.

A document titled Encuentro and Mission: A Renewed Framework for Hispanic Ministry. This updated national pastoral plan for Hispanic ministry was originally on the agenda for the June meeting but was withdrawn in order to give extensive attention to the sexual abuse issue at that time.

Canadian Bishops Say Celibacy Contributes to Clergy Shortage

The bishops of northern Canada said they desperately need priests but are hamstrung by the church’s celibacy requirement. The report by the bishops of the seven dioceses comprising the northern two-thirds of Canada was presented to the annual plenary assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in Cornwall, Ont., on Oct. 17-22. The report notes that vocations in the North have dramatically decreased and that most priests there are advanced in age. In some Catholic communities in the vast, sparsely populated North, Mass and other sacraments are celebrated only two or three times a year. Together all seven dioceses have a Catholic population of about 125,000, with 84 diocesan and religious priests.

Clergy Abuse Cases Becoming Public in South America

In several South American countries, clergy sexual abuse scandals have come to light as people go public with their accusations in the heavily Catholic region. The Archdiocese of Santiago, Chile, has suspended a priest who had previously undergone treatment for pedophilia after accusations that he had again abused minors. Archdiocesan officials have expressed support for the victims and opened a church investigation to parallel the state’s criminal probe. In Brazil a couple accused a priest with a prior pedophilia conviction of abusing their 9-year-old son and filed suit for punitive damages against the priest and his archbishop. In Argentina, a well-known priest who founded homes for troubled youths has been arrested after a television news show aired accusations of abuse by several teenagers, whose faces were hidden from the cameras. Public airings of clergy child abuse cases have been rare in the heavily Catholic South American countries; it is generally believed that exposure would bring shame to the family and the church.

Bishop Urges Greater Support for Domestic Anti-Poverty Program

At a time when 34 million Americans are living in poverty, including one in six children, Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, is urging greater support for the annual appeal of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, scheduled for Nov. 23-24 this year or on another date chosen by local dioceses. The domestic anti-poverty program is a living witness of the Gospel since, through the activities of C.C.H.D., the church in the United States helps people in need build a stronger future for themselves and their communities, said the bishop, who chairs the bishops’ C.C.H.D. committee.

Historian Says U.S. Sense of Catholicism’ Must Be Restored

At no other time in U.S. church history has a need for the widespread catechesis and re-evangelization of broad segments of the Catholic community coincided with so dire a shortage in the number of priests, religious and seminarians, the historian R. Scott Appleby told Catholic communicators on Oct. 16. Mr. Appleby, director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and a history professor at the University of Notre Dame, gave the opening keynote talk to the assembly of the new Catholic Academy for Communication Arts Professionals. The academy held its annual assembly on Oct. 16-19 in Los Angeles, Calif.

The challenge of Catholic education and formation in our media-driven, cyberspace age is no less than this: older Catholics must be restored to, and younger Catholics introduced to, a sense of Catholicism as a comprehensive way of life, he said. Mr. Appleby added that it could be argued that no previous generation of American Catholics inherited so little of the content and sensibility of the faith from their parents, as have today’s Catholic youth.

Former Ohio First Lady Excommunicated

The former Ohio first lady Dagmar Celeste, now identified as one of seven women who said they were ordained priests this summer in Europe, says she still considers herself a devoted Catholic even though she has been excommunicated. She and six other women said they were ordained priests on June 29 aboard a boat on the Danube River by Archbishop Romulo Antonio Braschi, an Argentine priest who founded the breakaway Catholic-Apostolic Charismatic Church of Jesus the King in 1970. The Vatican considers him a schismatic who has already incurred excommunication. Shortly after the women went public with their story, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican ruled the ordination invalid. The women were excommunicated in August after refusing to renounce their ordination.

Vatican Library Now Online

Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejia, chief Vatican archivist and librarian, unveiled the Vatican library’s new Web site, created with the help of Hewlett-Packard. The site showcases digital images of some of the collection’s more famous holdings, including letters written by Martin Luther and Michelangelo. Cardinal Mejia said the Vatican also planned to create a similar site for its so-called Secret Archives, which contain documents from pontificates as far back as the ninth century. Scholars currently have access to Vatican archival material through the reign of Pope Benedict XV, who died in 1922. Beginning next year the Vatican will make available documents regarding relations with Germany in 1922-39, the period of Pius XI’s pontificate. In 2005, all documents from that period will be made available.

News Briefs

Pope John Paul II has named Msgr. Celestino Migliore, Vatican under secretary of state since 1995, to be the Vatican’s new permanent representative at the United Nations.

The Guatemalan Supreme Court has temporarily suspended an appeals court decision that overturned last year’s conviction of three military officers and a priest for the 1998 murder of Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera of Guatemala City.

The Dublin Archdiocese will cooperate with any official state inquiry into how church officials handled past cases of sexual abuse by clergy, said Cardinal Desmond Connell of Dublin.

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