Signs of the Times

Review Board to Interview Bishops on Scope of Scandal

A subcommittee of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board on clergy sexual abuse will begin interviewing bishops, archbishops and cardinals in an effort to understand the scope of the abuse scandal. A statement on Dec. 6 from the attorney Robert S. Bennett, who chairs one of the board’s subcommittees, said the group, appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has begun extensive interviews and studies about the problem of sexual abuse by priests.

The timing of this effort is particularly appropriate because the board is troubled about recent public revelations which suggest that past abuse and how it was handled [were] more aggravated than previously thought, Bennett said in the statement, which was provided to Catholic News Service by his Washington law firm on Dec. 9.


The statement was made a few days after the release on Dec. 3 of Boston archdiocesan records concerning eight priests accused of sexual misconduct from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. Bennett said Catholic lay people are rightfully outraged over the church’s handling of abuse cases and that the board has a special responsibility to them. He said, A number of cardinals, archbishops and bishops are scheduled to be questioned as a key part of the review board’s investigation.

At about the same time as Bennett’s statement, The New York Times published an article based on an interview with Oklahoma’s Gov. Frank Keating, chairman of the review board, who said record-keeping on abuse cases in some dioceses had been slovenly. Keating told the Times the board had contacted some dioceses to review their files on abuse and that most bishops were cooperating with the panel’s requests. Some of these dioceses have very little in the way of definite records, Keating said in the interview. They are slovenly to the point of reckless in some cases and that’s why I think that some of the information is suspect.

Cardinal Law Makes Unannounced Trip to Vatican

Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston made an unannounced visit to Rome for discussions with Vatican officials amid further disclosures of cases of priestly misconduct in Boston and the specter of a possible filing for bankruptcy by the archdiocese. I can confirm the presence of Cardinal Bernard Francis Law in Rome, Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls said in a statement on Dec. 9. The cardinal has come to inform the Holy See about certain aspects of the situation in his diocese of Boston.

Cardinal Law met separately on Dec. 10 with Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and was expected to be received by Pope John Paul II.

Dioceses must seek authorization from the clergy congregation for any major financial decisions, including bankruptcy filings. The bishops’ congregation is responsible for preparing episcopal appointments and resignations for the pope.

The senior official said that contrary to some news reports, the Vatican was not weighing the option of assigning Cardinal Law a coadjutor archbishop who would assist him in resolving the archdiocese’s difficulties and eventually succeed him. The idea has never been considered by the Vatican, the official said. A Reuters dispatch quoted an unnamed Roman source saying that the Vatican was considering the appointment of an apostolic administrator if the cardinal resigned.

The cardinal’s visit came less than a week after the Boston archdiocesan finance council voted to allow him to pursue reorganizing the archdiocese under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code. The archdiocese said on Dec. 4 that the cardinal had not made a final decision on filing for bankruptcy, for which he would need Vatican approval. No U.S. diocese has ever made a Chapter 11 filing, in which a court determines what a corporation must do to satisfy creditors equitably and, if possible, regain solvency. The Archdiocese of Boston faces some 450 lawsuits for alleged sexual abuse of minors by its priests.

The cardinal’s visit also coincided with increasing anger among sexual abuse victims’ groups following the release on Dec. 3 of more than 2,000 pages of archdiocesan files concerning eight priests accused of sexual misconduct in the 1960’s to the 1990’s. The files discuss cases of the accused priests receiving or retaining assignments despite recommendations against moving them.

Because of the new disclosures, some 50 of the archdiocese’s 900 priests began circulating a draft petition for the cardinal’s resignation. The Rev. Robert Bullock, head of the 250-member Boston Priests Forum, said if the document indicated a consensus, he would sign it. We need new leadership, and we cannot build trust and confidence without new leadership, he said.

The archdiocesan filesmade public when lawyers for alleged victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley added the materials to their courtroom filemarked the first phase in release of what is expected to total about 11,000 pages of files on 65 priests accused of sexual abuse.

Cardinal Law’s consultation in Rome was his second unannounced visit to the Vatican this year. After the first one, in April, he issued a statement saying he had raised the possibility of resignation in meetings with Pope John Paul II and other Vatican officials but planned to continue serving the archdiocese as long as God gives me the opportunity.

Cardinal Keeler Decries Support of Pornography by Corporations

Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore and other religious leaders met on Dec. 6 with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to seek more vigorous prosecution of companies that distribute illegal pornography. At a press conference following the meeting, the religious leaders identified three companies listed among the Fortune 500 as distributors: AT&T and AT&T/Comcast through their cable televisions systems, and General Motors through its ownership of the Echostar satellite television service.

Meetings with companies over the past two years to persuade them to stop distributing pornography failed, religious leaders said. This prompted the meeting with Secretary Ashcroft. We asked him to ascertain the legality of the [pornographic] material, Cardinal Keeler said. All laws governing the distributorship of pornography should bemust beenforced.

News Briefs

The Diocese of Manchester, N.H., has signed a legally binding agreement with the state attorney general’s office acknowledging that it could have been convicted for failing to protect minors from clergy sex abusers. The agreement, dated Dec. 10, avoids prosecution of the diocese and gives the attorney general’s office oversight of diocesan policies dealing with sex abuse of children, including an annual audit for five years to ensure that toughened child safety procedures are followed.

Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston has resigned as chairman of the board of trustees at The Catholic University of America in Washington, effective immediately, the university announced on Dec. 10.

Retired Bishop Raymond Dumais, 52, who resigned as bishop of Gaspé, Quebec, in July 2001, announced during a radio interview with the Radio Canada station in Rimouski that he is living with a woman and that he will ask the Vatican to dispense him from the priesthood so he can marry.

The Vatican’s No. 2 doctrinal official, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, 68, was appointed the new archbishop of Genoa, Italy.

Ivan Illich, 76, the former Catholic priest and social critic who spoke against institutionalized religion and formal education, died on Dec. 2 in his home in Bremen, Germany.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, said this year’s media coverage of U.S. clerical sexual abuse seemed distorted and was an intentional effort to discredit the church.

Pope John Paul II asked for prayers as his homeland and nine other countries faced final negotiations for entering the European Union.

Philip Berrigan, 79, a former Josephite priest who was a leading figure in the Catholic anti-war movement over the past 40 years, died of liver and kidney cancer on Dec. 6 at Jonah House in Baltimore, Md.

Pope John Paul II urged Catholic journalists to strive for professional excellence, be sensitive to spiritual aspects of human life and report the truth courageously, even when it is not considered politically correct.’

The Italian government has agreed to finance the creation of an electronic inventory of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s historical archive, which contains documents related to the Inquisition, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and other chapters of history.

Among the 69 different religious groups working in Russia, the Roman Catholic Church poses the most serious threat to national security, according to a Moscow newspaper’s published excerpts of an internal government report. The publication in the Moscow daily Gazeta on Dec. 5 attracted intense local media interest and sparked a quick reply from the country’s leading Catholic bishop to the report that ranked Catholics as more dangerous than Satanists. The country’s 20 million Muslims are ranked as less threatening than its 600,000 Catholics.

The America magazine Web site now posts a month’s worth of CNS daily news briefs. Go to and click on news briefs and then on the news briefs page, click on Online Archive of News Briefs.

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