Signs of the Times

Vatican Official Says New Norms Give Greater Protections

Far from weakening the church’s ability to protect children, the revisions to the U.S. bishops’ norms on sexual abuse establish a rigorous procedure for dealing with offending priests and highlight the gravity of such crimes, the Vatican’s top canon law official said. Archbishop Julián Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, defended the revisions worked out by a U.S.-Vatican commission and said criticism of the changes reflects an incomplete understanding of church law.

Archbishop Herranz was one of four Vatican representatives on the mixed commission that revised the U.S. norms; the revisions were discussed and adopted overwhelmingly by U.S. bishops in mid-November. Archbishop Herranz predicted quick Vatican approval of the final text. Like several of the bishops involved in drawing up the sex abuse norms, Archbishop Herranz said the revisions had been misunderstood or misrepresented by some sectors of the media.


“It would be unfair to characterize the recommended modifications as taking a step backward in the campaign to protect our children from sexual abuse,” the archbishop said. “In fact, I would contend that the revisions, by reducing ambiguities and spelling out with greater detail the fair and proper process to be used, will actually enable the church to offer even greater protection to children,” he said.

Archbishop Herranz rejected the suggestion that the Holy See sought to “water down” the U.S. norms or “clog the wheels of justice” by putting into place a complex legal process to handle clerical sex abuse accusations.

“The suggestion that the Holy See actually reserved these matters to itself to thwart the claims of U.S. victims of sexual abuse could not be further from the truth,” he said. In effect, he said, the revisions added the necessary procedural detail to the norms, which the bishops were forced to draw up hurriedly during their meeting in Dallas in June.

“There was no attempt to step back from the commitment made at Dallas or to frustrate victims in their attempt to seek redress. Rather, the goal was to eliminate any internal inconsistencies or ambiguities that could lead to difficulties in applying the norms,” he said.

Archbishop Herranz said there was confusion in the media especially about the U.S. church tribunals that will handle clerical sex abuse cases. Some have suggested that U.S. dioceses may need years to set up such a system of church courts, and that this will be an enormous task. The archbishop, however, pointed out that U.S. dioceses already have tribunals in place; they typically handle marriage cases, but there is nothing that limits their competence to such cases. Some have handled penal cases in the past, he said.

These U.S. church courts already process more than 35,000 matrimonial cases a year, and “it would be hard to imagine that the addition of a handful of penal cases each year would pose an obstacle that could not be overcome,” he said. After all, he said, clerical sexual abuse cases are relatively rare; the approximately 230 cases of priests disciplined in 2002 involved incidents that have taken place over the last 40 years.

National Review Board Outlines Plans to Combat Sexual Abuse

The U.S. Catholic bishops’ national review board on sexual abuse has outlined its plans to study the issue of clerical sexual abuse and to set benchmarks for measuring diocesan child-protection programs.

The board said one subcommittee, headed by Jane Chiles, former director of the Kentucky Catholic Conference, is studying diocesan plans to create a safe environment for children in church ministry and intends to “establish benchmarks” for such diocesan programs. Another subcommittee, headed by Duquesne University law professor Nicholas Cafardi, is working on “the constitutive elements necessary to guarantee due process rights in the procedures used by diocesan review boards” when they assess sexual abuse allegations, it said. Cafardi’s subcommittee “found wide variation and little or no standardization in procedures” currently followed by diocesan review boards across the country.

The all-lay board reported that it has held listening sessions with victims “to understand firsthand the terrible ordeals through which these aggrieved parties have lived and their continuing resentment over what they view as the inept and callous handling of their cases by the hierarchy.” Leaders of victims’ groups “made clear that the single most important corrective action they seek is bishop accountability,” the report said. The report was released following the board’s meeting in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 11.

Concerning plans to engage in a “comprehensive study of the causes and context of the current crisis,” the board said a subcommittee headed by the Washington attorney Robert S. Bennett “is preparing an extensive list of authoritative sources, broadly reflective of the diversity of opinion on the subject.... It is our intent to take testimony from these individuals in a series of scheduled sessions in cities across the country” in an effort to search out the roots of the crisis.

On a second study, to assess the nature and scope of the problem, the board said a preliminary review showed that there is little “accurate statistical information available,” but “we have been assured that with proper focus and resources this data can be obtained.” A subcommittee headed by Alice Bourke Hayes, president of the University of San Diego, is researching how that study should be done.

The report said the national office will issue its first public annual audit of diocesan policies and practices in 2003, naming those not in compliance with national policy, and the national review board will review that audit and forward it with recommendations to the head of the bishops’ conference.

Pope Defrocks Pittsburgh Priest

Pope John Paul II has dismissed from the clerical state Rev. Anthony J. Cipolla, whom Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh had barred from all public ministry since 1988. In 1993 the Diocese of Pittsburgh settled out of court a lawsuit filed by a man who alleged that the priest had sexually abused him as a teenager over a four-year period in the 1980’s. The case of Cipolla’s suspension from ministry made headlines in 1993, when the church’s supreme court, the Apostolic Signature, reversed Bishop Wuerl’s decision to suspend him, and again in 1995 when the Signature reversed its own decision and reinstated the suspension.

Despite the suspension, Cipolla was periodically engaged in priestly ministry, including concelebrating Mass in February 1994 on the EWTN Catholic television network (whose spokesperson said they were unaware of the suspension). Cipolla had also been discovered serving as a chaplain on a Catholic cruise; leading pilgrimages to Bosnia, Spain and Venezuela; saying Mass at a St. Louis parish; and leading a retreat in Detroit.

S.O.A. Protest Draws Thousands, Leads to 96 Arrests

In an annual peaceful protest that began with 13 people in 1989, thousands of demonstrators called for the closing of the former School of the Americas at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., on Nov. 16-17. Now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the school trains Latin American soldiers. Graduates of the school have been implicated in the torture, rape and murder of tens of thousands of civilians in Central and South America, including the 1989 assassination of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. Organizers said 11,000 protesters participated. By late Nov. 17, 96 people, including six nuns, had been arrested for entering the base, after circumventing the 10-foot barbed-wire fence, a trespassing violation. On Nov. 18, 51 protesters were arraigned, with bail set at $5,000. On Nov. 19, 43 remained in jail. It was the first time arrested protesters were not released on their own recognizance.

News Briefs

• Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar for Rome and president of the Italian bishops’ conference, spoke out in support of former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti after Andreotti was sentenced to 24 years in prison for conspiring with the Mafia to murder a journalist. The Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, also expressed “full solidarity” with Andreotti, a seven-time prime minister seen as a strong political ally of the Catholic Church.

• The U.S. Senate on Nov. 14 killed the “faith-based” bill — the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment Act — by not letting it get to the floor for a vote.

• Pope John Paul II condemned a deadly attack on Israeli soldiers in the biblical city of Hebron and prayed that Israelis and Palestinians find the courage to make peace.

• Bishop Jorge Jiménez Carvajal, whose kidnapping by Colombian guerrillas sparked widespread international criticism, was rescued by the army on Nov. 15 after a firefight with his captors.

• The Vatican has ordered the addition of at least one extra year of studies to programs offering Vatican-authorized degrees in canon law, saying too many students lack the necessary background in theology and Latin. Beginning with the 2003-4 academic year, universities in Rome and around the world that offer Vatican-authorized degrees will require three years of study for a licentiate degree instead of the current two years.

• Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster announced plans to use Renew International, the parish-level faith renewal program developed by Msgr. Thomas Kleissler, of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., to revitalize the archdiocese spiritually.

Signs of the Times

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