Signs of the Times

Pope Urges Bishops: Collaborate in Governance

In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, U.S. bishops should be open to a more collaborative style of governance that shares responsibility with lay Catholics, Pope John Paul II said.

A consultative approach should not be seen as an abandonment of episcopal authority or a concession to democracy, but as a necessary way of strengthening a bishop’s effectiveness, the pope said. He made the remarks on Sept. 11 in a talk to more than 30 bishops from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, who were making their ad limina visits to the Vatican, as heads of dioceses are required to do every five years.


The pope said many of the bishops had spoken to him of a crisis of confidence in church leadership provoked by the abuse scandals and about the general call for accountability in the church’s governance on every level. He recalled that the Synod of Bishops in 2001 had acknowledged the need for each bishop to develop a pastoral style which is ever more open to collaboration with all. Although bishops remain responsible for making authoritative decisions, this presupposes participation in decision making by every category of the faithful, he said.

The commitment to creating better structures of participation, consultation and shared responsibility should not be misunderstood as a concession to a secular democratic’ model of governance, but as a necessary way of exercising and strengthening a bishop’s authority, he said. Ultimately, he said, episcopal authority rests on a bishop’s role as a witness, a teacher and a model of holiness, as well as a prudent administrator of the church’s goods.

The pope said bishops should remember that the apostolic authority they exercise is a form of service, inspired by and modeled on the service of Christ, who washed the feet of his disciples.

The bishops spent the week meeting with various Vatican departments. At the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, most of the discussion focused on procedures for dealing with priests accused of abuse, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh told Catholic News Service. Bishop Edward P. Cullen of Allentown, Pa., said the Vatican’s doctrinal officials had done an excellent job clarifying the procedural issues. He also said the bishops received strong encouragement about their efforts to address the needs of victims of sexual abuse.

Los Angeles Will Appeal Decision on Priests’ Files

An attorney for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said the archdiocese would appeal a decision by Superior Court Judge Thomas F. Nuss on Sept. 8 ordering the archdiocese to turn over 80 pages of personnel files on two priests accused of sexual abuse of minors who are being investigated by a grand jury for possible criminal charges. The judge upheld the archdiocese’s claim of psychotherapist privilege regarding other papers in the files, and there were some papers for which the archdiocese did not contest the grand jury’s subpoenas. Citing the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, an archdiocesan spokesman, Tod M. Tamberg, declined to identify the two men whose files were at issue, referring to them only as former priests long out of ministry.

The archdiocese noted that in June Nuss had completely quashed the grand jury subpoenas for the personnel files of 28 other priests. He ruled the prosecutors had brought no criminal allegations against any of the 28 that would fall within the statute of limitations for prosecution and therefore had shown no compelling state interest in seeing the files. During the 27-month legal dispute over personnel files, victim advocates have repeatedly criticized Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in the media for not handing the files over to the grand jury without challenge.

Following Nuss’s ruling Tamberg said: Our arguments in court relate to issues of constitutionality and fairness under the law. They should not be confused with our ongoing commitment to protect children through our comprehensive abuse policies and procedures. Archdiocesan attorney Don Woods said previous court rulings in other cases obliged the archdiocese to seek judicial review of subpoenas for personnel and psychotherapy records of its priests. The archdiocese itself has not asserted any privacy right in the documents under subpoena.

We are pleased that the court sustained many of the objections of the archdiocese on the subpoenaed records, he said. Regarding the 80 pages that Nuss said had to be turned over to the grand jury, he said, We were disappointed in Judge Nuss’s creation of an exception to what would otherwise be a privilege under the religion clauses to the First Amendment. Asserting that the decision is inconsistent with other court rulings, the archdiocese plans to appeal it.

The archdiocese is also fighting release of portions of its priest personnel files in civil lawsuits by alleged victims. As a result of a one-year suspension of the statute of limitations for such civil suits in 2003, it currently faces more than 500 such claims. All the cases have been consolidated under a single judge.

In late August the court-appointed liaison attorney for the plaintiffs asked the liability insurers of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the neighboring Diocese of Orange, which has 60 cases pending, to set aside reserves of at least $3.1 million per plaintiff to resolve the cases. That led to a flood of newspaper headlines saying the Archdiocese of Los Angeles could face more than $1.5 billion in damages. The reports projected a bill of more than $180 million for the Orange Diocese.

Officials of the diocese and archdiocese disputed the size of the damages projected by the lead plaintiffs’ attorney. Those amounts would be about 20 times the average per claimant paid last year in the Archdiocese of Boston’s record $85 million settlement with 541 claimants and about eight times as much per claimant as the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., agreed to earlier this year in a $53 million settlement with 133 claimants.

Naming Center for Giuliani Questioned

The naming of a new facility at a Catholic hospital for former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has raised questions in light of the U.S. bishops’ policy of refusing honors to politicians who support legal abortion. The facility, to be called the Rudolph W. Giuliani Trauma Center, will be at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, which is part of the St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers of New York.

In a statement adopted on June 18 at a special assembly in Englewood, Colo., the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declared: The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor 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.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, a priest of the New York Archdiocese and president of Priests for Life, saw the hospital’s action as a clear violation of the bishops’ policy. The former mayor, a Catholic and a Republican who supports legal abortion, was named executive honorary chairman of a $100 million capital campaign for the medical centers in 2002, and, more recently, his wife, Judith Giuliani, has been named executive director of the campaign.

Bush and Kerry Becomes Bush and Carey

Invitations to President George W. Bush and the presidential candidate John F. Kerry to speak at the Al Smith Dinner have been withdrawn because of objections to Kerry’s pro-choice position. They will be replaced at the fundraising dinner for New York Catholic hospitals by former President George H. W. Bush and former New York Governor Hugh Carey. In 1996, the vice presidential candidates were invited because Cardinal John O’Connor did not want to introduce President Bill Clinton, who had vetoed a bill banning partial birth abortion.

News Briefs

Pope John Paul II and leading Vatican officials met with Israel’s interior minister, Avraham Poraz, to discuss the church’s ongoing difficulties in Israel. Earlier this year, some 52 religious were denied visas to work in Israel. As of April this year, 138 religious were trying to obtain permission to work in the Holy Land. The officials also discussed the legal and tax status of religious property in Israel. Israel and the Holy See signed the Fundamental Agreement in 1993, but Israel has not enacted legislation to implement the agreement.

Contributions to help the U.S. victims of the recent hurricanes can be made to Catholic Charities USA by telephone at (800) 919-9338 and online at: To help victims in the Caribbean, contact Catholic Relief Services by telephone at: (877) HELPCRS (435-7277) or online at

Citing possible harmful effects on the poor, Latin American bishops pledged to help grass-roots groups have an effective voice in free trade agreements being promoted in the Western Hemisphere. As currently structured, free trade agreements tend to favor multinational companies, the economic elites in Latin America and the industrialized countries, said a statement by the Department of Justice and Solidarity of the Latin American bishops’ council. Landless rural farmworkers, small businessmen, women, youths, the elderly and the handicapped often lose out under such agreements, said the document. The four-page statement was written after a meeting in São Paulo, Brazil, on Aug. 10-13 between Latin American bishops and economic and trade officials of several governments.

In the six weeks that followed the bombing of five Catholic churches in Iraq, some 10,000 Iraqi Catholics fled the country, said Samir Khalil Samir, S.J., who runs the Center for Arab-Christian Documentation and Research in Beirut, Lebanon.

The Vatican criticized a fresh wave of arrests of Catholic clergy and faithful belonging to the underground church community in China. Eleven priests and three seminarians were arrested. A 76-year-old bishop died in prison, where he had been held since 1999.

At a forum sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., addressed public policy concerns ranging from poverty to peace, abortion to marriage, racism to immigration, workers’ rights to public aid for private schools.

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