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Despite the bishops’ efforts to extinguish the ever-smoldering sex abuse scandal by addressing it in Dallas and issuing their norms and charter, daily headlines from around the country give clear indicators that it’s far from over. In fact, some observers will say we’ve seen just the tip of the iceberg, particularly in terms of bishops’ complicity in moving around priests with histories of abuse, payments of hush money (euphemistically called “settlements”) to victims and “memory lapses” on the part of church officials questioned about past practices. A case in point is the recent deposition of Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y., regarding his assignment to a parish of the notorious abuser, Fr. Paul Shanley, when Daily handled priests’ placements in the Boston archdiocese (see story on Page 4).

In just about two weeks from this issue’s press date, the nation’s bishops will meet once again, this time back at their regular venue in Washington. On Oct. 30, the Vatican press office announced that the eight-member commission of U.S. bishops and Vatican officials had completed its work of revising the sexual abuse norms adopted by the U.S. bishops at their Dallas meeting in June (see story by NCR Rome correspondent John L. Allen Jr. on Page 3). As we’ve reported previously, it was fairly certain early on that Rome was not going to approve the norms without modification; major sticking points were concerns about zero tolerance and due process for accused clergy. So the news that Rome had indeed made changes in the norms is really not “new” news, but now it’s official. At NCR press time the specifics of the revisions had not been released, but the commission report with the changes will be sent to all the U.S. bishops before their Nov. 11-14 meeting. If that report becomes available before our next print edition, it will be posted on NCR’s Web site, www.natcath.org.

Meanwhile, back on the West Coast, there’s more stormy weather in the Los Angeles archdiocese. NCR reported earlier on several archdiocesan staff resignations and general discontent in the ranks there over major funding slashes and closures of ministries -- supposedly unrelated but coming curiously close to the dedication of L.A.’s $189 million cathedral. This week, reports surfaced that five key archdiocesan staffers were departing. Arthur Jones, NCR’s editor at large, reports on the ongoing L.A. story on Page 4.

On the liturgy front, the September newsletter of the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy is making for interesting conversations among both liturgists and the folk in the pews. As NCR reported Nov. 1, the newsletter -- echoing the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, released in October 2000 (and referred to in liturgical circles by its awkward acronym “the GIRM”) -- states that the “only licit posture” for U.S. Catholics during the eucharistic prayer is kneeling. While that statement also isn’t “new news,” another key element is conspicuous for its absence. That is any mention that the diocesan bishop is the principal liturgist in the local church, which the GIRM reiterates, and so is authorized to abrogate the universal norm in his diocese if he deems it fit. In other words, it’s the bishop’s call. When the general instruction was promulgated, more than a few bishops around the country determined to exercise their pastoral --and juridical -- right to allow standing during the canon “for a good reason.” (And some of these did the same with the GIRM’s rather retro rulings that no laypeople were to be in the sanctuary until Communion time and that only clergy could purify the chalice and ciboria.)

Liturgical propriety and turf wars aside, it’s interesting that the United States is possibly the only country in the world where kneeling is considered the most appropriate liturgical posture during the eucharistic prayer. A quick trip through Rome’s basilicas will reveal that there are no kneelers (except the ones in the sanctuary, reserved for the clergy, or in the Blessed Sacrament chapels); everybody stands, as Catholic worshipers there have for centuries. In fact, many Romans and U.S. expatriates living in the Eternal City often note with amusement that the only people dropping to their knees during liturgies are the Americans. One explanation of that could be Romans’ healthy skepticism of legalism. Or, hey, perhaps the Roman liturgists haven’t read the general instruction yet …

The tussles over implementation of the liturgy norms are sure to continue, and we’ll keep you posted.

On the home front, NCR editor Tom Roberts is itching to get back in the newsroom saddle after his heart bypass surgery, and he’s doing so well that will probably happen in the next few weeks. He’s grateful for the prayers and greetings, and we hope will be thanking you soon back in “this space.”

-- Pat Morrison

My e-mail address is pmorrison@nat cath.org

National Catholic Reporter, November 08, 2002