Signs of the Times

Canon Lawyers Say Due Process Limited for Accused Priests

As U.S. dioceses work through the cases of clerics accused of sex abuse of minors, several canon lawyers who are defending accused priests have complained that the procedures limit due process for their clients. Under church law you are innocent until proven guilty, said Frank Morrisey, an Oblate priest and canon lawyer who is defending several U.S. priests. Yet once a cleric has been accused, he is suspended from public ministry before he can mount a defense, he said. Critics say that this amounts to punishment without proof of guilt.


Father Morrisey said that the accused has to wait months for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has overall authority in sexual abuse cases, to review the diocese’s preliminary investigation and tell the diocese how to proceed in the case. One must expect a six- to eight-month delay after a bishop sends the case to the doctrinal congregation. Another canon lawyer, the Rev. Nicholas Rachford, said this delay puts accused priests in a state of suspended animation.

Father Rachford said that the suspension from ministry before proof of guilt causes the loss of reputation of the accused. He is removed from ministry. He is removed from the rectory, said Father Rachford, tribunal judge for the Byzantine Eparchy of Parma, Ohio. (An eparchy is the Eastern-rite equivalent of a diocese.) This is a loss of reputation as soon as he leaves the rectory.

Father Rachford said there seems to be a presumption of guilt with the presentation of the accusation, even before the preliminary investigation has been conducted. Many priests are being suspended from public ministry right after the accusation, although the norms say that suspension is to be imposed after the sending of the preliminary investigation to the doctrinal congregation, said Father Rachford. The Rev. Ronny Jenkins, consultant to the U.S.C.C.B. on the special norms, said that the suspension is applied to protect the public just in case. It is not an indication of guilt. Father Jenkins said that the diocese must provide the suspended priest with food, housing and a salary during this administrative leave.

During the preliminary investigation, an accused priest does not have the formal due process that he would have at a trial; but he retains basic rights, such as the right to his good name, said Father Jenkins. Church officials are also required to provide a church lawyer for an accused person who is unable to provide for one, he said.

As for how quickly the doctrinal congregation is getting back to dioceses, the time varies. The Archdiocese of Detroit received answers on two major cases in a couple of months, said Auxiliary Bishop Walter A. Hurley, who handles sexual abuse issues for the archdiocese. The Archdiocese of Chicago waited about six months before it was told to hold a trial for one priest, said the Rev. Patrick Lagges, archdiocesan judicial vicar. He said the archdiocese has 13 other cases still pending. About 10 were sent to Rome at the end of July and the rest at the end of September, said Father Lagges.

Father Morrisey said that another problem in presenting a defense is that many alleged offenses happened decades ago. Evidence and witnesses are hard to find, and many cases could end up being decided on the word of the accuser versus that of the accused, he said.

Pope Meets Cheney, Emphasizes International Cooperation for Peace

Pope John Paul II met with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney at the Vatican and emphasized the need for international cooperation in resolving conflicts around the world. I encourage you and your fellow citizens to work, at home and abroad, for the growth of international cooperation and solidarity in the service of that peace which is the deepest aspiration of all men and women, the pope said on Jan. 27. The pope, looking alert and speaking clearly, read a brief speech following 15 minutes of private talks with Cheney in the papal library.

The vice president later met with other top Vatican officials for discussions that touched upon Iraq, the Middle East and a wider range of moral and public policy issues, according to a Vatican statement. It was the pope’s first meeting with Cheney and his highest-level audience with a U.S. official since the Iraq war, which the pope and his aides strongly opposed. The vice president, a former secretary of defense, was one of the chief planners of the war.

After posing for photographers, the pope read his five-sentence speech thanking Cheney for the visit and invoking abundant blessings on the American people. The American people have always cherished the fundamental values of freedom, justice and equality, the pope said. In a world marked by conflict, injustice and division, the human family needs to foster these values in its search for unity, peace and respect for the dignity of all.

Why Did World Community Fail to Stop Genocide?

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, on Jan. 27 called for the international community to examine why it has failed to prevent the new acts of genocide that have occurred in recent years. Speaking in Sweden to the fourth Stockholm International Forum, he said that genocide remains a constant menace, and the world is too interconnected to plead ignorance of what is happening on the other side of the global village. The nuncio said the international community had legal instruments that could be used to nip genocides in the bud.... What we need most now is a greater and more courageous will to implement them, he said. Events in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia were especially shameful because the international community had the capacity to prevent the genocide but lacked the will, he said.

Voucher Plan Approved by Senate

The U.S. Senate’s approval on Jan. 22 of a $14 million voucher plan for low-income students in the District of Columbia was good news to Catholic officials. I’m euphoric, said Ronald Jackson, executive director of the District of Columbia Catholic Conference, who has watched this legislation go through various stages over the years and had been confident this year that the time was right for its approval.

The plan will provide $14 million for vouchers over a five-year period, offering 1,700 low-income students, from kindergarten through 12th grade, scholarship grants of $7,500 to attend private or religious schools and allowing $1 million for administrative costs. The bill, which is expected to go into effect next fall, also includes $13 million for public schools and $13 million for charter schools in the District of Columbia.

We’re not competing with public and charter schools, Mr. Jackson added, noting that seeking funds for other schools helped gain the support of District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams, the president of the Public School Board, and the chairman of the City Council’s education committee. Mr. Jackson hopes the success of this initiative will now be a model for other voucher bills across the country.

The vouchers would first be available to students enrolled in failing public schools. Currently 15 schools in the District of Columbia fit that description, according to recent test scores. Households earning about $36,000 a year for a family of four will qualify.

News Briefs

God’s symbolic arsenal of fire and brimstone is not primarily meant to sow fear, but to assure those striving for good that God is on their side, Pope John Paul II said. The Lord is not a remote king, closed in his gilded world, but a vigilant presence taking the side of the good and of justice, the pope said on Jan. 28 at his weekly general audience.

Being sexually abused as a child by a priest has a unique impact on a person’s spirituality that is not found in other abuse victims, Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley of Boston said on Jan. 14 at a national conference on the topic.

Victims and members of their families described such abuse as a life-altering violation of trust. The wound which was left by the abuse was not only to one’s psyche, but also to their spiritual life and identity, because their Catholic identity had been so important and so central in their existence, and now that had been seriously damaged, he said.

A Belgian antidiscrimination agency announced it would press charges against Cardinal Gustaaf Joos for comments he made about homosexuals in a magazine interview. The cardinal, an 80-year-old parish priest and retired professor of moral theology named to the College of Cardinals in October, said the vast majority of people who identify themselves as homosexual are not people struggling to live with a same-sex attraction, but are sexual perverts. I simply say what thousands of people think, the cardinal told VRT television after the interview appeared on Jan. 21 in P-Magazine, a Belgian men’s magazine.

Too Close for Comfort

It was the kind of offer that is hard for an aid agency to refuse. Dutch military forces in Liberia recently volunteered to support relief operations by the Catholic organization Cordaid, which assists refugees and former child-soldiers in the West African country. But the answer was not an automatic yes.

Something like this presents a very tough decision. It offers real help to Cordaid, but it establishes a relationship with the military force in a sensitive region, and that could create problems for the future, said Tim Aldred. Aldred, an official with Britain’s Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, known as Cafod, related the story at a meeting of Caritas Internationalis in Rome to illustrate the growing overlap between humanitarian and military operations in global conflict zones. The problem has been highlighted in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it also exists in dozens of other countries where peacekeeping forces and relief organizations must work side by side amid populations in conflict.

The Caritas experts gathered on Dec. 4 to discuss guidelines for Catholic aid agencies as they are forced to decide whether to accept military protection, transportation and logistical assistance. They also took a close look at how much information-sharing should go on between humanitarian and military organizations.

My concern is that military forces are increasingly taking on, unnecessarily, roles in delivery of relief which undermine the impartial and independent nature of humanitarian aid, said Archbishop Fouad El-Hage, president of Caritas Internationalis. I fear that this could affect the ability of humanitarian agencies like Caritas to reach civilians caught up in conflict, no matter what side of a front line they may be on, he said.

To relief organizations, the short-term benefits of military support can be huge. The military can provide safe travel in conflict areas, protection of relief distribution and storage sites, and even airlifts to otherwise inaccessible populations. But as soon as humanitarian workers start cooperating actively with the soldiers, their independent status is challenged.

I personally regard this cooperation as very risky. In a natural disaster area, sure. But not when you are dealing with an internal conflict between government troops and rebelsas occurs in many places in Africa, said Vincent B. Sebukyu, assistant director of Caritas Uganda. In Uganda, if I as a humanitarian worker would even talk to the military, I would be suspect. And our credibility with the people is the main thing.

To a large extent, the issue reflects the changing nature of modern military intervention. More and more, international organizations or coalitions send troops to intervene between warring populations for humanitarian reasons. The sea change occurred in 1999 in Kosovo, where NATO troops and relief organizations, including Catholic agencies, systematically worked together to assist and control refugee populations. That drew criticism from some quarters. The willingness of nongovernmental organizations to cooperate led some people to say we behaved as if we were part of NATO, said Cafod’s Aldred.

Relief agencies should use military assets only as a last resort in an emergency situation, said Manuel Bessler, who has helped draw up guidelines for U.N. agencies working with the military. One reason is the risk that humanitarian organizations will become too dependent on the military. But even a seemingly innocent offer, like transportation in a military vehicle, can end up weakening the security of relief operations, because it could attract a violent reaction that otherwise would not have occurred, he said. The violence against Red Cross workers in Iraq shows that sometimes the mere fact of working in a military occupation area can provoke local enmity. In Iraq and elsewhere, however, international Catholic aid agencies have one big advantage: They typically work through established church groups like the local Caritas office, and so are not perceived as foreign entities.

We are encountering no big problems, partly because our connection with foreign partners is not very obvious, said Faiq Bourachi of Caritas Iraq. We try to keep a low profile. And after all, we are Iraqis, and we speak the language. In southern Iraq, where we are working now, most of the people already knew us, Bourachi said.

Church experts will wrestle with these questions for some time, but over the next few months the executive committee of Caritas Internationalis hopes to draft some ground rules for workers in the field.
John Thavis

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