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Monday, May 16, 2011

New document from the Vatican on sexual abuse scandal- small commentary

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First, the note of synthesis, followed by letter from Cardinal Levada, and finally the document itself.  My comments will slowly but surely appear in green.

Note of Synthesis

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has asked every Bishops' Conferences in the world to prepare "Guidelines" for dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, in ways appropriate to specific situations in different regions, by May 2012.

Finally a sense of urgency, compared with what has gone before but it is still going to take a year. Should that not be end of May 2011?

In its "Circular Letter," the Congregation has offered a broad set of principles and indications, which will not only facilitate the formulation of the guidelines and therefore a uniformity of conduct of ecclesiastical authorities in various nations, but will also ensure consistency at the level of the universal Church, while respecting the competence of bishops and religious superiors.

Sexual abuse as an international management problem- will the Congregation highlight best practice once they have collected all the Guideliness from the Bishops’ Conferences?  Surely there will be Bishops' Conferences against which the others can benchmark themselves.

Priority is given to victims, prevention programs, seminary formation and an ongoing formation of clergy, cooperation with civil authorities, the careful and rigorous implementation of the most canonical recent legislation in the area are the principal considerations that must structure the Guidelines in every corner of the world.

Have a book about seminary formation in the years prior to the Council- it is clear that the authorities were all too aware of the problems of moral decadence. There is no way that a child abuser would have got through seminary if the authorities lived by what was in this book.


To learn about modern seminary life, there is no substitute for reading Goodbye Good Men by Michael Rose.   The abusers, by and large, come from the self- protecting coteries of homosexuals that dominate some seminaries and they continue to shelter their own, long after seminary has finished.  They have but one hermeneutic (interpretation in plain language) of the Council and it is the extension of  liberty of conscience, unbalanced by prudence, into matters of morals.

* * *
In recent days, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has sent to all Episcopal conferences a "Circular Letter to assist Episcopal Conferences in developing Guidelines for dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by clerics."

The preparation of the document was announced in July, at the time of the publication of new rules for the implementation of the motu proprio " Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela " (see Note Fr. F. Lombardi, in OR, 16/07/2010, 1, and www.vatican.va, Abuse of minors. The Church’s reponse).

An analogy of the procedure with the Latin Mass Motu Proprio, re-inforcing the original publication with further guidelines- one is probably going to see more and more of this method (very Benedict XVI) as the Vatican tries to bring faith and order to the post-conciliar church. If the Bishops’ Conferences have been as inactive about implementing Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, as they have about the Latin Mass Motu Proprio, God help the Church.

H.E., Cardinal Levada, Prefect of the Congregation, later informed of its preparation during the meeting of the Cardinals at the November Consistory (see Press Release on the Afternoon Session, 11/19/2010).
The document is accompanied by a letter of presentation, signed by Cardinal Levada, illustrating its nature and purpose.

Following the revision of norms on sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy, approved by the Pope last year, "it seems opportune that each Episcopal Conference prepare Guidelines whose purpose will be to assist the Bishops of the Conference to follow clear and coordinated procedures in dealing with these instances of abuse. Such Guidelines would take into account the concrete situation of the jurisdictions within the Episcopal Conference".

What will happen if the Vatican are unhappy with some of the guidelines produced. Can they ask a Bishops’ Conference to change their guidelines? Why on earth does not the Vatican produce guidelines and impose them on the Bishops’ Conferences, with the possible option of the Conferences adding their own paragraphs if they really do have specific situations to deal with. The child abuse is a universal problem and the Catholic Church is universal.

To this end, the Circular Letter "contains general themes" for the consideration which naturally must be adapted to national realities, but which will help to ensure a coordinated approach by the various episcopates as well as - precisely thanks to the Guidelines - within the Episcopal Conferences.

As long as general themes are not generalities

Regarding the drafting of new Guidelines or the revision of existing ones, Cardinal Levada’s letter also gives two indications: first, to involve the Major Superiors of clerical religious Institutes (to take into account not only diocesan clergy, but also religious), and then to " send a copy of the completed Guidelines to the Congregation by the end of May 2012".

See above on slowness of the process. How many perpetrators will have died between now and May 2012?

In conclusion, two concerns are clear:

1. The need to address the problem promptly and effectively with clear, organic, indications that are suitable to local situations and in relation to the norms and civil authorities. The indication of a specific date and a relatively short period within which all Episcopal conferences must develop Guidelines is clearly a very strong and eloquent statement.

The Vatican is playing catch up, maybe too little, certainly too late.

2. Respect for the fundamental competence of the diocesan bishops (and Major Superiors) in the matter (the wording of the Circular is very keen to stress this aspect: the guidelines are intended to "assist the diocesan bishops and Major Superiors").

There are two old debates at play here- the competence of the individual diocesan bishop vis a vis the Bishops’ Conferences and the authority of the Bishops’ Conferences vis a vis the Pope.

The Circular Letter itself is short but very dense, and is divided into three parts.
The first part develops a set of general considerations, including in particular:

Priority attention to the victims of sexual abuse: listening to the victims and their families, and a commitment to their spiritual and psychological assistance.

Any mention of compensation to the victims or their families?  Or payment for psychological assistance- which can be very long term.   Several victims have committed suicide.   Abuse can ruin the lives of a whole circle of people.

The development of prevention programs to create truly safe environments for children.

Prevention programmes start in restored seminary training- see above.

The formation of future priests and religious and exchange of information on candidates to the priesthood or religious life who are transferred.

Rome needs to keep a central database of all priests who are transferred from diocese to diocese.

Support for priests, their ongoing formation and informing them of their responsibilities regarding the issue, how to support them when they are accused, dealing with cases of abuse according to law, the rehabilitation of the good reputation of those who have been unjustly accused.

Only judging from the press, what is remarkable, especially given the prevailing climate, seems to be how few false accusations there have been.

Cooperation with civil authorities within their responsibilities. "Specifically, without prejudice to the sacramental internal forum, the prescriptions of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the designated authority should always be followed". This cooperation should be implemented not only in cases of abuse by clergy, but by any employee who works in a Church structure.

There is no specific mention of Church schools.  Surprising, as many cases arose in this context.


As one friend put it, did they not know telephones had been invented when it came to reporting to the civil authorities?   This is not a question of rights for canon law procedures- which the civil authorities barely recognise- all too often that has been an excuse for cover up.

The second part addresses applicable canonical legislation in force today, after the revision of 2010.

Will come to this when I comment on the document itself.

It refers to the power of bishops and Major Superiors in preliminary investigation and, in the case of a credible allegation, their obligation to refer the matter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which offers guidance for the handling of the case.

It speaks about the precautionary measures to be imposed and information to be given to the accused during the preliminary investigation.

It refers to the canonical measures and ecclesiastical penalties that can be applied to offenders, including dismissal from the clerical state.

Finally, it specifies the relationship between canon law valid for the entire Church and any additional specific particular norms that given Episcopal Conferences deem appropriate or necessary, and the procedure to be followed in such cases.

The Third and final part lists a number of useful observations in formulating concrete operational guidelines for bishops and major superiors.

Among other things, the need to offer assistance to victims is stressed as well as the need to treat the complainant with respect and ensure the privacy and reputation of the people involved; to take due account of the civil laws of the country, including any obligation to notify the civil authorities; to ensure the accused information on the allegation and an opportunity to respond, and in any case a just and worthy support; to exclude the cleric's return to public ministry, in case of danger to minors or of scandal to the community. Once again, the primary responsibility of bishops and Major Superiors is reiterated, a responsibility which can not be replaced by supervisory bodies, however useful or necessary they may be in support of this responsibility.
The Circular therefore represents a very important new step in promoting awareness throughout the Church of the need and urgency to effectively respond to the scourge of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. Only in this way can we renew full credibility in the witness and educational mission of the Church, and help create in society in general, safe educational environments of which there is an urgent need.

CONGREGATIO PRO DOCTRINA FIDEI3 May 2011
Your Eminence, Your Excellency,
As you are aware, on 21 May 2010, His Holiness, Benedict XVI promulgated a revised version of the motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela containing norms concerning delicta graviora, including the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy.

In order to facilitate the correct application of these norms and other issues related to the abuse of minors, it seems opportune that each Episcopal Conference prepare Guidelines whose purpose will be to assist the Bishops of the Conference to follow clear and coordinated procedures in dealing with these instances of abuse. Such Guidelines would take into account the concrete situation of the jurisdictions within the Episcopal Conference.

Seems opportune is a bit of an understatement.  How about it is imperative

To assist the Conferences of Bishops with the preparation of such Guidelines, or as an aid in reviewing those which already exist, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has prepared the enclosed Circular Letter which contains general themes for the consideration of the Conference. This Circular Letter will remain under embargo until 12:00 PM in Rome on 16 May 2011, when it will be released by the Vatican Press Office.
It would also be helpful to involve the Major Superiors of clerical religious Institutes present in the territory of the Conference in the development of such Guidelines.

Another understatement!   Delete helpful and add necessary.   There have been several cases in Germany and also at Ealing Abbey where the local bishops argued that they had no jurisdiction.   In the case of Ealing, Vincent Nichols said it was the responsibility despite it stating in the guidelines, which he had a hand in writing, that bishops should take responsibility for the religious houses in their diocese.

Finally, each Conference of Bishops is asked to send a copy of the completed Guidelines to the Congregation by the end of May 2012.

Hopefully, the conferences compete with eachother to produce guidelines with all possible speed and well before May 2012.  One wonders what proportion of Bishops' Conferences and Dioceses in the world have produced guidelines and how many of them, especially the Dioceses, are unaffected by the issue.  Suspect it is very few.

This Dicastery remains at the disposal of your Episcopal Conference should there be any need for clarification or assistance in the preparation of such Guidelines. In the event that the Conference wishes to establish binding norms it will be necessary to request the appropriate recognitio from the competent Dicasteries of the Roman Curia.

To make them binding in canon law- seems to me a lot of these guidelines will have no effect in canon law.  Can Rome ask for corrections to any of them- I assume they can for the ones that are to be made binding.

With prayerful best wishes, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
William Card. Levada
Prefect
CIRCULAR LETTER
To assist Episcopal Conferences in developing Guidelines
for dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by clerics
Among the important responsibilities of the Diocesan Bishop in his task of assuring the common good of the faithful and, especially, the protection of children and of the young, is the duty he has to give an appropriate response to the cases of sexual abuse of minors by clerics in his diocese. Such a response entails the development of procedures suitable for assisting the victims of such abuse, and also for educating the ecclesial community concerning the protection of minors. A response will also make provision for the implementation of the appropriate canon law, and, at the same time, allow for the requirements of civil law.

One of the first tasks, if not the first task, of a Diocesan Bishop is to protect children.    Forget issuing banal left-wing papers on peace and justice which no-one reads.


There is a tension between the different standards for the punishment of clergy in civil and canon law, which goes back centuries.   St Thomas Becket was accused of being soft on criminous clerks.

I. General considerations:
a) The victims of sexual abuse:
The Church, in the person of the Bishop or his delegate, should be prepared to listen to the victims and their families, and to be committed to their spiritual and psychological assistance. In the course of his Apostolic trips our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, has given an eminent model of this with his availability to meet with and listen to the victims of sexual abuse. In these encounters the Holy Father has focused his attention on the victims with words of compassion and support, as we read in his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland (n.6): "You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated."

Oh, that other Bishops had followed the lead of the Holy Father- all too often they are aware of litigation for compensation.  Archbishop Leonard of Belgium has resolutely refused to accept any ecclesiastical responsibility.

b) The protection of minors:
In some countries programs of education and prevention have been begun within the Church in order to ensure "safe environments" for minors. Such programs seek to help parents as well as those engaged in pastoral work and schools to recognize the signs of abuse and to take appropriate measures. These programs have often been seen as models in the commitment to eliminate cases of sexual abuse of minors in society today.


Prevention starts in the seminary- see above.

c) The formation of future priests and religious:
In 2002, Pope John Paul II stated, "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young" (n. 3, Address to the American Cardinals, 23 April 2002). These words call to mind the specific responsibility of Bishops and Major Superiors and all those responsible for the formation of future priests and religious. The directions given in the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis as well as the instructions of the competent Dicasteries of the Holy See take on an even greater importance in assuring a proper discernment of vocations as well as a healthy human and spiritual formation of candidates. In particular, candidates should be formed in an appreciation of chastity and celibacy, and the responsibility of the cleric for spiritual fatherhood. Formation should also assure that the candidates have an appreciation of the Church’s discipline in these matters. More specific directions can be integrated into the formation programs of seminaries and houses of formation through the respective Ratio institutionis sacerdotalis of each nation, Institute of Consecrated Life and Society of Apostolic Life.


All too often unsuitable candidates are being accepted, given the shortage of priests. 

Particular attention, moreover, is to be given to the necessary exchange of information in regard to those candidates to priesthood or religious life who transfer from one seminary to another, between different dioceses, or between religious Institutes and dioceses.

See urgent need for central database- see above.

d) Support of Priests
1. The bishop has the duty to treat all his priests as father and brother. With special attention, moreover, the bishop should care for the continuing formation of the clergy, especially in the first years after Ordination, promoting the importance of prayer and the mutual support of priestly fraternity. Priests are to be well informed of the damage done to victims of clerical sexual abuse. They should also be aware of their own responsibilities in this regard in both canon and civil law. They should as well be helped to recognize the potential signs of abuse perpetrated by anyone in relation to minors;


All too often there has been a conspiracy of silence within orders and even parish communities.

2. In dealing with cases of abuse which have been denounced to them the bishops are to follow as thoroughly as possible the discipline of canon and civil law, with respect for the rights of all parties;

Procedures should not only be more thorough, they should be more quickly handled than in the past.

3. The accused cleric is presumed innocent until the contrary is proven. Nonetheless the bishop is always able to limit the exercise of the cleric’s ministry until the accusations are clarified. If the case so warrants, whatever measures can be taken to rehabilitate the good name of a cleric wrongly accused should be done.

Pleased to see canon law following English notions of justice of innocent until proved guilty.  As I said above, only judging from the press, what is remarkable, especially given the prevailing climate, seems to be how few false accusations there have been.

e) Cooperation with Civil Authority
Sexual abuse of minors is not just a canonical delict but also a crime prosecuted by civil law. Although relations with civil authority will differ in various countries, nevertheless it is important to cooperate with such authority within their responsibilities. Specifically, without prejudice to the sacramental internal forum, the prescriptions of civil law regarding the reporting of such crimes to the designated authority should always be followed. This collaboration, moreover, not only concerns cases of abuse committed by clerics, but also those cases which involve religious or lay persons who function in ecclesiastical structures.

As one friend put it, did they not know telephones had been invented when it came to reporting to the civil authorities?   This is not a question of rights for canon law procedures- which the civil authorities barely recognise- all too often that has been an excuse for cover up.

II. A brief summary of the applicable canonical legislation concerning the delict of sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by a cleric:

On 30 April 2001, Pope John Paul II promulgated the motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela [SST], by which sexual abuse of a minor under 18 years of age committed by a cleric was included in the list of more grave crimes (delicta graviora) reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Prescription for this delict was fixed at 10 years beginning at the completion of the 18th year of the victim. The norm of the motu proprio applied both to Latin and Eastern clerics, as well as for diocesan and religious clergy.

In 2003, Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the CDF, obtained from Pope John Paul II the concession of some special faculties in order to provide greater flexibility in conducting penal processes for these more grave delicts. These measures included the use of the administrative penal process, and, in more serious cases, a request for dismissal from the clerical state ex officio. These faculties have now been incorporated in the revision of the motu proprio approved by the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, on 21 May 2010. In the new norms prescription, in the case of abuse of minors, is set for 20 years calculated from the completion of the 18th year of age of the victim. In individual cases, the CDF is able to derogate from prescription when indicated. The canonical delict of acquisition, possession or distribution of pedopornography is also specified in this revised motu proprio.

Statute of limitations- not sure what the pre-existing norms prescribed.   Will make some more notes on the canon law section later today.   More comments below that on advice to bishops.

The responsibility for dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors belongs, in the first place, to Bishops or Major Superiors. If an accusation seems true the Bishop or Major Superior, or a delegate, ought to carry out the preliminary investigation in accord with CIC can. 1717, CCEO can. 1468, and SST art. 16.

If the accusation is considered credible, it is required that the case be referred to the CDF. Once the case is studied the CDF will indicate the further steps to be taken. At the same time, the CDF will offer direction to assure that appropriate measures are taken which both guarantee a just process for the accused priest, respecting his fundamental right of defense, and care for the good of the Church, including the good of victims. In this regard, it should be noted that normally the imposition of a permanent penalty, such as dismissal from the clerical state, requires a penal judicial process. In accord with canon law (cf. CIC can. 1342) the Ordinary is not able to decree permanent penalties by extrajudicial decree. The matter must be referred to the CDF which will make the definitive judgement on the guilt of the cleric and his unsuitability for ministry, as well as the consequent imposition of a perpetual penalty (SST art. 21, §2).

The canonical measures applied in dealing with a cleric found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor are generally of two kinds: 1) measures which completely restrict public ministry or at least exclude the cleric from any contact with minors. These measures can be reinforced with a penal precept; 2) ecclesiastical penalties, among which the most grave is the dismissal from the clerical state.

In some cases, at the request of the cleric himself, a dispensation from the obligations of the clerical state, including celibacy, can be given pro bono Ecclesiae.


Why does it need to be at the request of the cleric?

The preliminary investigation, as well as the entire process, ought to be carried out with due respect for the privacy of the persons involved and due attention to their reputations.

If this is the case, speed is also needed both at Diocesan and especially Roman level to avoid accusations of cover-up.  The point of the decision whether or not to call in the civil authorities must be reached with all possible speed.

Unless there are serious contrary indications, before a case is referred to the CDF, the accused cleric should be informed of the accusation which has been made, and given the opportunity to respond to it. The prudence of the bishop will determine what information will be communicated to the accused in the course of the preliminary investigation.

It remains the duty of the Bishop or the Major Superior to provide for the common good by determining what precautionary measures of CIC can. 1722 and CCEOcan. 1473 should be imposed. In accord with SST art. 19, this can be done once the preliminary investigation has been initiated.

Finally, it should be noted that, saving the approval of the Holy See, when a Conference of Bishops intends to give specific norms, such provisions must be understood as a complement to universal law and not replacing it. The particular provisions must therefore be in harmony with the CIC / CCEO as well as with themotu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (30 April 2001) as updated on 21 May 2010. In the event that a Conference would decide to establish binding norms it will be necessary to request the recognitio from the competent Dicasteries of the Roman Curia.

III. Suggestions for Ordinaries on Procedures:
The Guidelines prepared by the Episcopal Conference ought to provide guidance to Diocesan Bishops and Major Superiors in case they are informed of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics present in the territory of their jurisdiction. Such Guidelines, moreover, should take account of the following observations:

a.) the notion of "sexual abuse of minors" should concur with the definition of article 6 of the motu proprio SST ("the delict against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue committed by a cleric with a minor below the age of eighteen years"), as well as with the interpretation and jurisprudence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while taking into account the civil law of the respective country;

b.) the person who reports the delict ought to be treated with respect. In the cases where sexual abuse is connected with another delict against the dignity of the sacrament of Penance (SST art. 4), the one reporting has the right to request that his or her name not be made known to the priest denounced (SST art. 24).;

c.) ecclesiastical authority should commit itself to offering spiritual and psychological assistance to the victims;


And financial commitment to this care as and when necessary

d.) investigation of accusations is to be done with due respect for the principle of privacy and the good name of the persons involved;

e.) unless there are serious contrary indications, even in the course of the preliminary investigation, the accused cleric should be informed of the accusation, and given the opportunity to respond to it.

f.) consultative bodies of review and discernment concerning individual cases, foreseen in some places, cannot substitute for the discernment and potestas regiminis of individual bishops;

This clash of powers has been responsible for some furious disputes, not least in Belgium, to a degree the Netherlands and some scandal in Austria, as well as the US.  See earlier post today on Cathcon.

g.) the Guidelines are to make allowance for the legislation of the country where the Conference is located, in particular regarding what pertains to the obligation of notifying civil authorities;

Whatever the national requirements, the Church should be exemplary in this respect.

h.) during the course of the disciplinary or penal process the accused cleric should always be afforded a just and fit sustenance;

i.) the return of a cleric to public ministry is excluded if such ministry is a danger for minors or a cause of scandal for the community.


As if that should be in doubt.

Conclusion:

The Guidelines developed by Episcopal Conferences seek to protect minors and to help victims in finding assistance and reconciliation. They will also indicate that the responsibility for dealing with the delicts of sexual abuse of minors by clerics belongs in the first place to the Diocesan Bishop. Finally, the Guidelines will lead to a common orientation within each Episcopal Conference helping to better harmonize the resources of single Bishops in safeguarding minors.

What powers of enforcement and monitoring will the Vatican have respect to the Bishops' Conference and individual Bishops, and what powers will the Conferences have with respect to individual bishops.  All dates back to the ecclesiologically muddled thinking about the relationship of the Papacy and bishops after the Council.


Rome, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 3 May 2011
William Cardinal Levada
Prefect + Luis F. Ladaria, S.J.
Tit. Archbishop of Thibica
Secretary
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