Signs of the Times
Pope Deplores Bombings in Iraq, Jerusalem, Urges End to Violence
Pope John Paul II deplored deadly bombings in Iraq and Jerusalem and urged steps to end the new spiral of violence in the Middle East. The pope spoke at a general audience on Aug. 20, a day after a U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, was blown up and a tourist bus in Jerusalem was bombed. At least 40 people died, and scores were injured in the two attacks. The pope said news of the attacks can only generate deep sadness and total condemnation in our heart.
While we entrust to divine mercy those who lost their lives and implore comfort for the bereaved, we pray to the God of peace that wisdom will prevail in hearts and that those responsible for civil society will know how to break this sorrowful spiral of hatred and violence, he said.
Vatican Official Says 1962 Norms on Solicitation No Longer Apply
The Vatican’s 1962 norms for handling cases of priests accused of soliciting sex in the confessional have been superseded by the 1983 Code of Canon Law and new 2001 norms for dealing with serious crimes involving the sacraments, said Archbishop Julián Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. The archbishop was asked on Aug. 7 about the status of a 1962 document of the doctrinal congregation, Instruction on the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation, a term that refers specifically to sexual misconduct suggested or carried out by a priest in the context of sacramental confession.
An attorney for victims of clerical sex abuse submitted the document to a Massachusetts court in late July, claiming it proved a Vatican-ordered conspiracy to cover up cases of sex abuse over the past 40 years. News stories about the document in the Massachusetts press in July and nationally in August portrayed it as an instruction to bishops to keep every accusation of clerical sex abuse secret.
The document insists that the investigation of allegations of solicitation in the confessional and the trials of accused priests be conducted in absolute secrecy. But if a priest was found guilty or simply admonished for unsuitable behavior and later was transferred to another diocese, his bishop was obliged to inform the bishop of the new diocese.
While most of the 1962 document was addressed to the issue of clerics soliciting sex from a penitent, its final paragraphs applied the same criminal norms and procedures to a cleric who commits the worst crimeengaging or attempting to engage in sexual relations with a person of his own sex...[or] with youths of either sex or with brute animals.
A Vatican official, who asked not to be identified, said the document’s invocation of secrecy was not meant to protect guilty priests, but to ensure a fair trial and safeguard the reputations of innocent priests and of the penitent making the claim.
Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, spokes-man for the U.S. bishops’ conference, said the document deals with crimes against the sacrament throughout the universal church and is totally silent with regard to civil crimes. In fact, he said, the document considers solicitation to be so serious that a person is required to denounce the priest, and the result can be that the priest is removed from ministry.
Even a priest guilty of attempting to solicit sex from a penitent is burdened seriously in conscience to inform his victim that he or she has 30 days to report the incident to the bishop or face excommunication, the 1962 document said.
To prevent the violation of the sacramental relationship from remaining occult and unpunished and always with inestimable detriment to souls, the document said, the victim must be compelled to report the crime or to inform a trusted person who would report the crime.
William Woestman, an Oblate priest who is the author of Ecclesiastical Sanctions and the Penal Process and a member of the metropolitan tribunal of the Chicago Archdiocese, said the strict secrecy about such cases that the 1962 document imposed, under pain of automatic excommunication that could be lifted only by the pope, probably would have been interpreted by church authorities as barring them from notifying civil authorities of an accusation that a priest attempted to solicit sex from a penitent.
But he said the secrecy rule was intended to protect everybody. Especially, on the seal of confession, you had to protect the penitent who made the denunciation. And even in the latest norms [of 2001], normally the accuser is not made known.
Father Woestman, a former professor of canon law at St. Paul University in Ottawa, said the pontifical secrecy imposed on church authorities regarding such cases by the 2001 norms does not come into play until the case is referred to the doctrinal congregation. If the accusation against a priest involves a civil crime as well as an ecclesiastical crime, he said, the person who makes the accusation should be told that he or she ought to notify the police as well.
Boston Archdiocese Offers $55 Million Sex Abuse Settlement
Barely a week after Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley became its head, the Boston Archdiocese offered $55 million to settle 542 pending lawsuits over sexual abuse of minors by clergy. News of the proposal broke late on Aug. 8 as attorneys for some of the plaintiffs made details available to the media. If accepted, it will be the largest settlement ever reached for a group of victims of such abuse, although not the largest settlement per victim.
The proposal reportedly requires that in order to take effect, at least 95 percent of the plaintiffs will have to sign on within 30 days. The amount will be reduced by 1/542about $101,000, for every plaintiff who does not sign on. In return, the archdiocese reportedly will not contest any of the claims or seek protection under a state law that says no charitable institution can be sued for more than $20,000.
While the proposed settlement would mean an average of about $101,000 per plaintiffor about $70,000 after attorneys’ feeslawyers said not everyone would receive the same amount. The proposal reportedly calls for the amount for each plaintiff to be based on the type and severity of abuse and damage sustained, with mediators working out a formula with the plaintiffs and their lawyers. The archdiocese would not be a part of those negotiations.
The New York Times quoted Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer who represents nearly half the plaintiffs, saying the offer was the first concrete proposal the church has ever made and calling it substantial enough to deserve real consideration. The Boston Globe reported that some victims welcomed the offer and expressed a desire to settle, but others said they want to take their cases to court.
Milwaukee Priests Urge Optional Celibacy
More than 160 priests in the Milwaukee Archdiocese have signed a letter urging the U.S. bishops to allow married men to be ordained for the diocesan priesthood. We urge that from now on celibacy be optional, not mandatory, for candidates for the diocesan Roman Catholic priesthood, said the letter. Dated Aug. 16, it was sent to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Catholic Church needs more candidates for the priesthood, so that the church’s sacramental life might continue to flourish, the priests wrote. They called celibacy a great charism and predicted that some priests would continue to choose it should it become optional. They argued, however, that marriage and its many blessings are compatible with the priesthood and even enhancing of priestly ministry.
Of the 442 retired and active priests who are attached to the Milwaukee Archdiocese, 128 signed the letter. In addition, 35 priests in the archdiocese who belong to religious orders signed it.
The Rev. Robert Silva, Chicago-based president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, noted that the letter does not ask for a marriage option for current priests or for the return to active ministry of priests who have left ministry to marry, but only for the lifting of celibacy as a requisite for future candidates for the priesthood. In view of Pope John Paul II’s strong support for mandatory celibacy, I don’t expect that there would be any change in the discipline because of this, he said.
Although marriage before ordination is allowed in Eastern-rite Catholic churches, celibacy has been required of diocesan priests in the Latin rite since the Second Lateran Council in 1139. In the past half-century some exceptions have been made on a case-by-case basis for Protestant ministers who have become Catholic and sought to continue priestly ministry in the Catholic Church. Celibacy has always been required for priests who join religious orders and take a religious vow of chastity.
Pope John Paul II has repeatedly and strongly defended the Latin-rite rule on priestly celibacy. He calls it a timely challenge for contemporary society and says he believes that allowing a married priesthood might create bigger problems than those it intends to solve.
Anti-Defamation League Concerned About Passion’
National Jewish leaders who attended a private screening of The Passion, produced and directed by Mel Gibson, in Houston on Aug. 8 voiced concerns about the content of the movie and its impact on Jews. We are deeply concerned that the film, if released in its present form, will fuel the hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that many responsible churches have worked hard to repudiate, said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement from the league’s headquarters in New York on Aug. 11. Paul Lauer, Gibson’s spokesman, said Gibson has edited the film to show Jewish characters who are more sympathetic to Jesus and clearly labeled Simon of Cyrene as a Jew in the film.
The Anti-Defamation League listed five issues it found objectionable in the movie:
The film portrayed Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as forcing the decision to torture and execute Jesus and thus assuming responsibility for the crucifixion.
It further portrayed Jews as bloodthirsty, sadistic and money-hungry enemies of God lacking in compassion and humanity, a stereotype the league said has lingered since medieval times.
The movie relies on historical errors, including its depiction of the Jewish high priest controlling Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.
It portrays Jews who adhere to their faith as enemies of God and the locus of evil.
The Passion distorts New Testament interpretations by citing passages selectively to oversimplify history and be hostile to Jews and Judaism. The film uses a book called The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Sister Catherine Emmerich, a 19th-century German nun who has been proposed for sainthood. The league claims the nun was anti-Semitic.
Many theologically informed Catholics and Protestants have expressed the same concerns regarding anti-Semitism, and that this film may undermine Christian-Jewish dialogue and could turn back the clock on decades of positive progress in interfaith relations, Rabbi Korn said.
The day after the Anti-Defamation League’s statement, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights blasted what it called the group’s politicized attack on the movie. The movie is not anti-Semitic and does not need to be changed, said Catholic League president William Donohue. Revisionist history is dishonest history and must be resisted.
Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago viewed a rough cut of The Passion at an invitation-only screening in July in Chicago. While he withheld judgment on the movie because it was not yet complete, he told The Chicago Sun-Times that it’s a very graphic presentation of the passion of Christ in the Gospels. He added, For people who think that the Passion narratives are themselves anti-Semitic, well then, it’s a presentation of those narratives. For those of us who don’t believe they’re anti-Semitic, that Christ died for our sins, all of us, and so therefore we all caused his death, it’s a way to portray, very graphically, the brutality of that execution in a Roman style.
Benedictine Abbot Jean-Baptiste Gourion was named an auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and given charge of the pastoral care of Hebrew-speaking Catholics in the Holy Land. Bishop-designate Gourion is one of the founders of Resurrection Abbey in Abu Gosh, near Jerusalem, and was elected its first abbot in 1999. Since 1990 he has been president of the Work of St. James, a community of Hebrew-speaking Catholics, and has simultaneously served as the Latin patriarch’s vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics. The appointment of the 68-year-old abbot on Aug. 14 came amid continuing debate over the advisability of establishing a separate church jurisdiction in the Holy Land for Catholics who speak Hebrew and are not of Arab or Palestinian origin (see America, 5/19).
Mexican bishops applauded announcements by the country’s Zapatista rebels that they will withdraw guerrilla-style checkpoints on roads, stop collecting so-called war taxes and change the emphasis of their movement from a military to a civil struggle. Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristóbal de Las Casas said the policy shift by the Zapatista National Liberation Army promoted peace and opened the door to the rebels and government working to help Mexico’s 10 million indigenous people.
U.S.-born Bishop Tomás Mauro Muldoon of Juticalpa, Honduras, has suspended the work of 40 lay social ministry workers because of death threats against them related to controversies over the country’s logging industry. One of the lay workers was killed in July.
John Page, former executive secretary of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, was the recipient of the 2003 Pax Christi Award presented by St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minn.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which monitors religious freedom, canceled its planned trip to China after Chinese officials told delegation members they could not visit Hong Kong.
The Catholic Funds Inc. in Milwaukee, sponsored by a consortium comprised of the Catholic Knights and three other Catholic fraternal organizations, announced the merger of the Catholic Values Investment Trust into the Catholic Equity Fund. The funds give investors more opportunities to use Catholic values to guide their investments.