Signs of the Times

Bishops Approve 2004 Abuse Policy Audits

The U.S. bishops have approved on-site audits this year of all U.S. dioceses to monitor compliance with policies to prevent sexual abuse of children. The vote was 207 to 14 in favor with one abstention, according to a news release issued in Denver on June 15 by the communications department of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The 2004 audits will be the second yearly report on how dioceses are complying with policies. The 2003 audits showed 90 percent compliance. The approval came after controversy because some bishops wanted to postpone the 2004 audits. The vote was taken during the bishops closed-door spring meeting, held this year on June 14-19 in Englewood, Colo., a suburb of Denver.

The hierarchy also directed its all-lay National Review Board to prepare, in conjunction with the bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, proposals for a study on the causes and context of the clergy sex abuse crisis. The study is called for by the bishops policies contained in the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, but the financing has to be approved by the bishops.


The news release quoted Justice Anne M. Burke, interim chairwoman of the review board, as welcoming the bishops’ vote. "The National Review Board is pleased with the decision to move forward with the audits and to begin further research into the causes and context of these crimes," said Justice Burke. "The message is clear: Children will be safe from harm in the Catholic Church, and the bishops and lay people will work together on this," she said.

Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., the spokeswoman for the bishops, said that the bishops were also briefed on the procedure for replacing National Review Board members. The spokeswoman said that the review board and the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, chaired by Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis, are responsible for drafting a joint list of replacements, with each of the potential nominees being vetted by the local bishop, as was the case in the original appointments. Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S.C.C.B., will then present the names to the bishops administrative committee in September for consultation before he appoints new members, said Sister Walsh.

The board originally had 13 members, but one resigned and five others, including Justice Burke, have announced they will resign before the end of 2004. Burke told CNS on June 16 that the five who plan to resign will remain on the board until replacements have been named.

Justice Burke added that the bishops also agreed to do further studies with John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York based upon the data the college collected last year for its massive statistical study on the nature and scope of the crisis during the years 1950-2002.

Bishops Warn Politicians Who Back Legal Abortion

Politicians who act "consistently to support abortion on demand" risk "cooperating in evil and sinning against the common good," the U.S. Catholic bishops said in a statement released in Washington late on June 18. "Those who formulate the law" are obliged in conscience "to work toward correcting morally defective laws," they said in a 1,000-word statement titled Catholics in Political Life. "The killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil.... To make such intrinsically evil actions legal is itself wrong," they said.

Noting that "the question has been raised" whether it is necessary to deny Communion to Catholics in public life who support abortion on demand, the bishops said that "all must examine their consciences" about their worthiness to receive Communion, including an assessment of their "fidelity to the moral teaching of the church in personal and public life."

They added that "given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment" in that matter, the bishops "recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with established canonical and pastoral principles." "Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action" in confronting individual cases, they said, but the bishops share an "unequivocal commitment to protect human life and dignity."

They urged Catholics in public life to protect the unborn and oppose legal abortion "lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil"--which in Catholic teaching is itself sinful. They said they would counsel Catholic politicians who consistently work against restrictions on abortion that their support for abortion on demand "risks making them cooperators in evil in a public manner." The statement was adopted by a vote of 183 to 6 during the special assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops held on June 14-19 in Englewood, Colo.

Noting "the polarizing tendencies of election-year politics," they warned against misusing Catholic teaching and sacramental practice "for political ends." They also said that Catholic institutions "should not honor [emphasis in original] those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

Reflecting on the churchs role in promoting public policies that respect human life and dignity, they said there is a need "to continue to teach clearly" and bring Catholic leaders to an "unequivocal commitment" to full legal protection of human life at every stage. They said there is a need to do more "to persuade all people that human life is precious and human dignity must be defended." They invited political leaders as well as others to take initiatives in that area. They called on all Catholics "to act in support of these principles and policies in public life."

Task Force: Battle in Public, Not at Communion

Prior to the vote approving the statement Catholics in Political Life, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, D.C., told the U.S. bishops that their task force on politics believes "the battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable should be fought not at the Communion rail, but in the public square." In the controversy over denying Communion to politicians who support abortion on demand, he said, the bishops "conference is divided, with several bishops sincerely convinced this is necessary and many others who do not support such actions."

"Our consultations with moral theologians and canonists warned us that such steps could raise serious questions about Catholic teaching and the application of canon law," he said in a presentation delivered at a closed bishops meeting on June 15 and made public on June 23. "State Catholic conference directors warned about a negative impact on faithful legislators, the Catholic community and the role of the church in public life," he added. "As many of you know, Vatican officials offered...principles and advised caution and pastoral prudence in the use of sanctions," he said.

The texts of presentations to the bishops by three task force members were made public in Washington eight days after they were delivered at the bishops gathering in Englewood, Colo. The presentations formed an interim report of the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, headed by Cardinal McCarrick. A final report is to be completed in time for the bishops next meeting, scheduled for November in Washington, D.C.

The task forces report--available on the U.S.C.C.B.s Web site, a more extensive look at the consultation, reasoning and discussion underlying the bishops statement Catholics in Political Life. The report was composed of introductory remarks by Cardinal McCarrick and presentations to the bishops by him and two other task force members.

Archbishop William J. Levada of San Francisco gave a theological reflection on the issues involved, taking a letter to Cardinal McCarrick by 48 Catholic members of Congress as a starting point. He urged dialogue with those in public life. He distinguished between those who "cooperate formally" in procuring an abortion--such as the woman, a husband who urges her to have one, or the abortion doctor and medical aides--and legislators who vote on an abortion law. "Can a politician be guilty of formal cooperation in evil?" he asked. "If the person intends to promote the killing of innocent life, she/he would be guilty of such sinful cooperation. If such an intention were present, even a voter could be guilty of such cooperation. But this seems unlikely as a general rule." In church law, he noted, "Canon 915 says that those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion." But he added, "The practice of the church is to accept the conscientious self-appraisal of each person."

Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, Md., brought the bishops up to date on the task forces work so far, which included consultations with Vatican officials and fellow bishops, including 70 responses to questions the task force asked the bishops. Of the respondents who addressed the question about the appropriateness or wisdom of sanctioning politicians, he said "the majority were negative on refusing Communion by a margin of roughly 3 to 1." Even among those who supported some form of sanction, he said several alternatives to publicly refusing Communion were offered, "including private or public calls for politicians to refrain from identifying themselves as Catholic or refrain from receiving Communion."

He reported on a meeting of the task force with theologians, canon lawyers and state Catholic conference directors. Participants affirmed the need to address the problem of Catholic politicians who act in ways that are not consistent with fundamental church teaching but raised questions about the best way to do this. "Some pointed out that since, under canon law, denying holy Communion involves the restriction of a right, this law must be interpreted strictly," he continued. "They pointed out that denial of Communion is not the current practice of the Holy See or other bishops conferences. They warned that sanctions, particularly the denial of Communion, could be counterproductive."

Cardinal McCarricks presentation focused on "interim guidance" from the task force to the bishops as they face the election-year controversies of the next few months. "No one should mistake our task forces reservations about refusing Communion or public calls to refrain from Communion as ignoring or excusing those who clearly contradict Catholic teaching in their public roles," he said. "Those who take positions or act in ways that are contrary to fundamental moral principles should not underestimate the seriousness of this situation. We insist that they must study Catholic teaching, recognize their grave responsibility to protect human life from conception to natural death and adopt positions consistent with these principles."

Cardinal McCarrick said the task force believes, however, that this message should not be delivered by withholding Communion, but "in the public square, in hearts and minds, in our pulpits and public advocacy, in our consciences and communities.... There is significant concern about the perception that the sacred nature of the Eucharist could be trivialized and might be turned into a partisan political battleground."

He warned of "serious unintended consequences" of using Communion as a weapon. One danger, he said, is that Catholic politicians faithful to church teaching, who courageously stand for moral principles they believe in, can be perceived as giving in to pressure from the hierarchy, while "weak leaders who bend to the political winds...are perceived as courageous resisters of episcopal authority."

News Briefs

  • Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., U.S.C.C.B. president, said the United States was responsible for ensuring that Iraq can develop a sustainable, secure democracy. "By its military intervention in Iraq, the U.S. government has taken on a moral obligation to engage in a difficult, long-term process of nation-building," Bishop Gregory said in a June 22 statement. The bishop called for an active U.N. role in the handover of power to an Iraqi-led government. He reiterated the bishops concerns on the war in Iraq and the "unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of an invasion and occupation." He said the "events of the past year have reinforced those ethical concerns."
  • The Vatican expressed dismay over the ongoing detention of Catholic bishops in China. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, head of the Vatican press office, said in a statement on June 23 that there was no official word about the fate of Bishop Peter Zhao Zhendong of Xuanhua, 84, who was arrested on May 27.
  • Pope John Paul IIs recent proclamation of a "eucharistic year" and his advancement of 13 Mexican sainthood causes has fueled speculation that he plans to travel to Mexico in October. Mexican organizers of the International Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara on Oct. 10-17 long ago invited the pope to attend.
  • A Ugandan archbishop, in an effort to stop a decades-long conflict in his archdiocese, called on the U.S. government to stop supplying military aid to his government. "We need aid. We need food. We need more than weapons," said Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu during a visit to Washington in mid-June.
  • Eight Catholic individuals and one Catholic religious order were among the 30 honored as "Hunger Heroes" by Bread for the World. Those honored included John Carr, Robert Cahill, Gloria Fitzgerald, Benedictine Sister Christine Vladimiroff, William J. Byron, S.J., Joe Martingale, Sue Toton, Carlos Navarro and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, Calif.
  • A Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing may be the only option available to the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., in the face of sexual abuse lawsuits seeking millions of dollars, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said in a letter to his people. It could mark the first time a U.S. Catholic diocese has resorted to Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.
  • Bishop Kenneth A. Angell of Burlington, Vt., told a Vermont magazine that he supported "controlled substance prescriptions for medical marijuana."
  • Women now hold nearly half of all U.S. diocesan administrative and professional positions, says a survey report released in June by the U.S. bishops Committee on Women in Society and in the Church.
  • According to a survey by Time magazine, only a third of Americans know John Kerry is a Catholic. Nearly three-quarters of the Catholic respondents said they disagreed with the proposition that Catholic politicians who do not support the Catholic Churchs position on abortion should not present themselves for Communion. Three-quarters said the Catholic Churchs opposition to abortion made no difference in how they voted. Likewise, 65 percent said the churchs opposition to same-sex marriage would make no difference. Almost four out of five Catholics said the churchs opposition to the death penalty would make no difference in how they voted.
  • The television series "Joan of Arcadia," "The Bernie Mac Show" and "Little Bill" each picked up two nominations in the 30th annual Humanitas Prize competition, which honors screenwriters whose work honestly explores the complexities of the human experience and sheds light on the positive values of life.
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11 years 11 months ago
Thank you for printing the picture with the caption “Mother feeds malnourished child” in Signs of the Times on July 5. I simply stopped and stared, disturbed and saddened. Having breast-fed all three of my children, I want to cry with and for the mother in the picture, knowing she is not providing the milk that every ounce of her mind, body and soul wants to produce for her child. I was disappointed in myself for daily agonizing over what food to make for dinner, rather than simply being grateful that I even have food available. As disturbing as the picture is, I’ll put it on our fridge, next to our kids’ artwork, made in their secure little world. It will call me to gratefulness and humility.

Thanks, America, for showing and reminding me of the stark reality hungry breast-feeding mothers and their children face daily.

11 years 11 months ago
It will be a long time before I get over my anger over the bishops politicizing the magisterium in favor of Republican candidates. Truth in advertising, please! Preferring persuasion to a police state is not “consistently to support abortion on demand” (Signs of the Times, 7/5). As for politicking for a marriage amendment: once they concede that sexual orientation is not chosen, they have no developed theology of sexuality to speak from. Let them be silent or, if they will, politic for justice and peace.


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