Vatican Wants U.S. Norms on Abuse Allegations to Be Revised

Guidelines May Be a "Source of Confusion and Ambiguity," Holy See Says

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 18, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican wants the U.S. bishops to help revise their zero-tolerance sex-abuse policy, saying the current norms "can be the source of confusion and ambiguity."



A mixed commission of the U.S. episcopate and the Vatican will study the norms approved last June by the American bishops. The norms were passed in the wake of the crisis involving child sexual abuse by priests.

The Vatican Press Office today published an exchange of letters between Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. episcopal conference.

The "Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests, Deacons or Other Church Personnel," as well as the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" needed the "recognitio" of the Vatican to come into force.

The mixed commission will be made up of four bishops of the U.S. conference and four representatives of the Holy See -- of the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Bishops, for the Clergy; and of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legal Texts.

Cardinal Re's letter to Bishop Gregory makes it clear that, although the Vatican does not recognize the norms and the charter, its decision in no way affects the efforts to defend the victims of sexual abuse.

"The Holy See, above all, would like to convey full solidarity with the bishops of the United States in their firm condemnation of sexual misdeeds against minors and is deeply concerned about the distressing situation that has arisen in recent months in the Church in the United States," says Cardinal Re's letter, which was dated Monday.

"The sexual abuse of minors is particularly abhorrent," the letter says. "Deeply moved by the sufferings of the victims and their families, the Holy See supports the American bishops in their endeavor to respond firmly to the sexual misdeeds of the very small number of those who minister or labor in the service of the Church."

However, the letter points out that in some aspects "the application of the policies adopted at the plenary assembly in Dallas can be the source of confusion and ambiguity, because the 'Norms' and 'Charter' contain provisions which in some aspects are difficult to reconcile with the universal law of the Church."

"Moreover, the experience of the last few months has shown that the terminology of these documents is at times vague or imprecise and, therefore, difficult to interpret," the letter explains.

"Questions also remain," it says, "concerning the concrete manner in which procedures outlined in the 'Norms' and 'Charter' are to be applied in conjunction with the requirements of the Code of Canon Law and the Motu Proprio 'Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela,'" published by John Paul II last year.

At a press conference today, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, said that the defense of the victims is not in opposition to the priests' most fundamental rights, which these norms might ignore.

Cases have already arisen in which priests faced questionable accusations. In Boston, a monsignor was placed on administrative leave on the basis of accusations considered so flimsy that even the civil courts dismissed them. The accuser was portrayed by a local newspaper as a pathological liar.

Bishop Gregory replied to the cardinal in a letter dated Tuesday, in which he thanks the Holy See for its concern and accepts on behalf of the U.S. episcopate the establishment of the mixed commission.

He held a press conference at the North American College in Rome, during which he explained that the Holy See believes there are areas that must be clarified in the U.S. episcopate's norms.

The principal area relates to the provisions for action against those priests accused of sexual abuse of minors, in regard to their fundamental rights guaranteed by Church law. Another question is linked to terminology, in particular, the definition of "sexual abuse."