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Vatican-U.S. commission announces completed revision of sex abuse norms


A mixed commission of four Vatican officials and four American bishops has finished its revisions of the sexual abuse norms adopted by the U.S. bishops last June in Dallas, aiming to preserve the heart of the zero- tolerance approach while also respecting the rights of accused priests.

Vatican spokesperson Joaquín Navarro-Valls released a statement Oct. 30 indicating that the commission had completed its work, but he revealed nothing in terms of how it had resolved differences between the Dallas norms and the Code of Canon Law.

“On the days of Oct. 28 and 29, the mixed commission of the Holy See and the bishops’ conference of the United States of America met in the Vatican for the revision of the ‘norms,’ ” Navarro’s statement read.

“The suggestions elaborated by the mixed commission will be carried to the general meeting of the American episcopal conference, which will be held in Washington Nov. 11-14. The document approved by the bishops’ conference of the United States will then be sent to the Holy See for the further recognitio.”

Recognitio is a technical term for formal legal approval under canon law.

Chicago Cardinal Francis George, a member of the commission, said in a statement that he believed the goals of the policy, “to protect minors and to reach out to victims,” have been preserved, and the rights of accused priests have been protected.

Observers expect the results of the commission’s work to be communicated to the U.S. bishops prior to their arrival in Washington for the Nov. 11-14 meeting.

From the Vatican, participants are Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, Colombian, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy; Archbishop Julian Herranz, a Spaniard, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts; Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Italian, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, another Italian, secretary of the Congregation for Bishops. The four men represent the four Vatican offices involved in the review of the norms.

For the Americans, members are Chicago Cardinal Francis George; Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco; Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill.; and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn.

The long-awaited Vatican response to the Dallas norms came on Oct. 14 in a letter from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation of Bishops, to Gregory (NCR, Nov.1). That letter referred to conflicts between the norms and canon law, but did not specify the nature of the conflicts. In his own statement, Gregory listed three points: the definition of sexual abuse, due process guarantees for accused priests, and the powers of lay review boards created in the dioceses.

Issues expected to be especially vexing under the heading of “due process” include the statute of limitations for sex abuse offenses in canon law, currently 10 years from the date of the victim’s 18th birthday, and the confidentiality rights of priests when accusations surface.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is jallen@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, November 08, 2002