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Ratzinger endorses day of penance for abuse


Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the pope’s top doctrinal official, has endorsed the idea of the American bishops performing a public day of penance connected to the spiraling sexual abuse scandal in the United States.

Meanwhile, the head of the Vatican’s office on liturgy, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, said he knew nothing about rumors currently afloat in the United States that Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston might be brought to Rome as his replacement.

Also, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Archbishop Julian Herranz, told reporters that he does not foresee any revisions of canon law to stiffen penalties against priests who commit sexual abuse.

Ratzinger, Medina and Herranz all took part in the summit last week involving the American cardinals and officials of the bishops’ conference, the pope and senior Vatican prelates.

The three prelates, who did not make themselves available to the press during the April 23 and 24 summit, spoke at a May 2 Vatican news conference. The occasion was the publication of a new apostolic letter on the sacrament of reconciliation (see brief, Page 9).

In his prepared remarks, Ratzinger spoke of the need for “purification and pardon.” He was asked if that idea might apply to the proposal that the American bishops should commit a public act of penance for their mishandling of cases of sexual abuse by priests.

Vatican press officer Joaquín Navarro-Valls attempted to deflect the question, saying that there were two press sessions dedicated to the American situation last week. Ratzinger, however, said he would nevertheless respond.

“The American bishops have already decided on a day of expiation, which will probably be the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” Ratzinger said. The feast occurs Friday, June 7.

“It will be an act of purification, which can promote the idea of expiation in the daily life of Christians,” he said. “Such a public act takes note of the reality of sin and invites us to think about sin and mercy.

“Above all, it can promote a praxis of penitence, focusing on both education and prevention against these human failings. It can renew our sense of the sacrament [of reconciliation] that the Lord offers us.”

In response to a question about rumors that Law might be slated to replace him at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Medina said he was “not a prophet, either major or minor, and I hope I am not a false prophet.”

“I don’t know anything of who will be my successor, or when he will arrive,” Medina said. “I only hope to have my desk fairly clean.”

Medina was recently confirmed as head of the congregation in the form of donec aliter provideatur, meaning that it is not a standard five-year term, but literally “until something else is provided for.”

Law has been mentioned as a possible successor not merely because of his current difficulties related to the sex abuse scandal, but also because he has long taken an interest in matters of liturgy and liturgical translation.

Later in the news conference, Ratzinger described the two-day summit with the Americans as “very opportune, very fraternal.” He said it offered an opportunity for “understanding points of view that are somewhat diverse.”

“We understand the situation better, the roots of the situation, and the responses to give to it,” Ratzinger said.

“The American bishops are now working on a national standard which will have to receive the formal approval of the Holy See,” he said.

Asked about discrepancies between the 1917 Code of Canon Law and the 1983 edition (the 1917 code provided harsher penalties for sexual misconduct), Herranz said he did not anticipate changes.

“There is no need to revise,” he said. “The current code responds well to different types of offenses.”

National Catholic Reporter, May 10, 2002