The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Monday, April 12, 2010
Vatican posts policy on line; clergy sex abuse victims respond
Statement by Barbara Blaine of Chicago IL (USA), President of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (312 399 4747)
Monday, Vatican officials are reportedly posting on line a ‘guide’ to its long-secret, convoluted policy about defrocking priests.
But making a secretive, biased and erratically-followed policy slightly more accessible can only be considered “progress” in the most narrow sense possible.
Church policies, whether on-line or not, are largely irrelevant. Bishops answer to virtually no one and can easily ignore policies. We must focus on behavior, not policies, and on deeds, not words.
In the US, many dioceses adopted abuse policies in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They all sound good on paper. But they’re essentially for public consumption, not for actual use in day-to-day reality. They were adopted only in response to scandals, when church insurers, defense lawyers and public relations experts insisted bishops do SOMETHING to mollify increasing outraged parishioners and skeptical law enforcement personnel.
And we should be clear on this point: It wasn’t and isn’t a lack of policies or procedures that keeps predator priests in ministry or that enables corrupt bishops to hide these crimes. It’s a lack of courage. In a church where prelates have vast power, bishops have long had all the tools they need to protect kids.
Tragically, however, bishops usually refuse to use those tools, because their main concern continues to be their reputations, not their flock’s safety.
The BBC has apparently reported that “zero tolerance” might be part of these guidelines. (See America Magazine http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&entry_id=2741)
If so, church officials will crow that this is a dramatic step forward. We disagree, however. “Zero tolerance” is merely a promise, not a fact. And the American bishops’ “zero tolerance” pledge is followed only sporadically, and usually following public pressure or threats of public disclosure.
History and commonsense tell us that ancient, rigid, secretive cultures change very slowly, especially when the basic structure causing and sanctioning hurtful behaviors doesn’t change at all. A dictator abuses power because he can. He can promise reform, but if he remains a dictator, it’s naïve to expect real change.
Church policies are not like secular laws. Penalties are meted out according to clear rules, open hearings and fair processes. Sadly, the Catholic hierarchy rarely acts like this.
Finally, promising to oust predator priests is fine, as long as it really happens. But it ignores the crux of the crisis: complicit bishops. There always have been and will be predator priests. Their crimes will continue to be concealed, however, until reckless, callous and deceitful church employees are severely disciplined. Unfortunately, no one in the Catholic hierarchy is even talking about, much less doing anything about, this larger, tougher problem, which no “zero tolerance” pledge affects.
A “zero tolerance” promise also diverts attention from the on-going cover ups by the church hierarchy, while doing nothing to prevent such cover ups in the future.
So if the Vatican announces a “zero tolerance” pledge, we hope that parishioners and the public will understand that promises are easy to make but hard to keep.
Vatican shows new transparency with online guide
Now, as the office's handling of child-molesting priests comes increasingly under fire, the Vatican is starting to open up. On Monday, it will post on its Web site a concise guide for the layman on how the Congregation handles sex abuse allegations.
Also Friday, the Vatican said that Pope Benedict XVI would meet with more abuse victims and that transparency in dealing with abuse allegations is an "urgent requirement" for the church — a sharp turnabout in Rome's previously defensive response to the scandal.
The laymen's guide, a copy of which was obtained Friday by The Associated Press, doesn't contain any information that isn't available to the public through a trip to a specialized religious library or a Vatican bookstore.
But it puts various sources of complicated canonical procedures together in a concise, easy-to-read, one-page guide, without cumbersome canon law citations and Latin phrases.
The church's internal justice system for dealing with abuse allegations has come under attack because of claims by victims that their accusations were long ignored by bishops more concerned about protecting the church and by the Congregation, which was headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1981 until he was elected pope in 2005.
Jose Barba Martin of Mexico tried for years to have his accusations against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ heard by the Congregation. In the end, it took eight years for Rome to discipline the Rev. Marcial Maciel.
"They went through the motions of the law, but they didn't treat us with respect for the law," Barba told the AP from Mexico City.
In the end Barba's abuser was sentenced in 2006 to live a life of reserved prayer; Maciel died in 2008 before the Legionaries admitted that he had fathered at least one child and molested young seminarians.
According to Vatican norms, issued in 2001 and summarized in the new guide, a bishop must investigate every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric. If the accusation has a semblance of truth, the case is referred to the Congregation, which decides how to proceed.
The Congregation's disciplinary department, which weighs each case, is composed of 10 people: Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who is the promoter of justice, or chief prosecutor; the bureau chief; seven priests; and a lay lawyer, though other officials from other Vatican offices are brought in for specific cases.
They can decide to authorize the diocese to pursue either a judicial or an administrative trial, both of which can condemn a priest to a number of penalties, including defrocking, or what the church calls being reduced to the lay state. Victims can also seek damages. Or the Congregation can conduct a trial on its own, although that is rare.
If the evidence is overwhelming, the Congregation can refer the case directly to the pope, who can issue a decree dismissing the priest from the priesthood altogether.
Scicluna has said that since 2001, some 3,000 cases concerning accusations of abuse dating back 50 years have been referred to the Congregation. A full canonical trial has taken place in 20 percent of the cases; 60 percent of the time there has been no trial, primarily because the priest was old and was instead disciplined by other means, such as restricting where he could celebrate Mass and sending him to pray.
In 10 percent of the cases, the pope has dismissed the priest from the priesthood; in the remaining 10 percent of the cases, the priest himself has asked to be laicized.
The norms themselves are full of fascinating details particular to the church: Judges who mete out justice must be priests "of mature age," must hold doctorates in canon law, and must be "outstanding in good morals."
If the Congregation authorizes the diocese to conduct a canonical trial, three to five judges sit in judgment.
The trial is conducted according to the continental system, in which judges weigh the evidence but do the investigating too, as opposed to the American justice system, an adversarial process where facts are evaluated by a jury of peers.
The confidentiality provisions in canonical proceedings are offensive to some in the U.S. But their purpose is to ensure the integrity of the proceedings and not to hide information from civil authorities, said Jeffrey Lena, the Vatican's U.S. attorney.
"The problem is that people from one legal culture misinterpret how another legal culture operates," he said. "These misunderstandings unfortunately infect much of the debate raging over the meaning of canonical provisions."
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who has been the main expert witness for victims in hundreds of lawsuits against priests and diocese in the U.S. and elsewhere, said canonical trials can be an effective way to mete out justice — if they are held.
The problem is that they have rarely been held, said Doyle, who in the course of testifying in lawsuits has reviewed documentation from 190 of the 195 Catholic dioceses in the United States and reviewed more than 1,500 priest personnel files.
"Almost all the cases — where bishops received allegations that a priest sexually abused, raped or molested a child — the bishops' procedure was simply to confront the priest, transfer him to another assignment, and in a few cases they send them to counseling centers," Doyle said.
Doyle said the secrecy surrounding the proceedings is excessive in requiring the victims to take an oath of secrecy once the trial begins.
"The justification for secrecy is usually given to protect the reputations of everyone involved — which is legitimate — and the need to conduct the trial as unencumbered by outside influences," Doyle said. "But the common law system is evidence you can have some transparency."
The Congregation traces its origins to the Congregation for the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition, the commission created in 1542 that functioned as a tribunal to root out heresy, punish crimes against the faith and name Inquisitors for the church.
One of its more famous victims was Giordano Bruno, burned in Rome in 1600 after being tried for heresy.
The Congregation today is housed in a grand palazzo on St. Peter's Square, where two Swiss Guards stand at attention. The Vatican declined to let the AP inside for this article.
The Rev. Davide Cito, a canon lawyer at Rome's Pontifical Holy Cross University, has participated in cases before the Congregation's tribunal and been awed by both the history of the institution and tragedy of the crimes that are decided there.
"The first thing anyone who deals with these cases feels is respect — respect for the victim and respect for the priest," he told the AP.
Associated Press writer E. Eduardo Castillo contributed to this report from Mexico City.
Vatican's new global policy to curb abuse
Buried in a church news round-up in the Italian newspaper La Stampa lurks a highly significant story: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is working on a global policy to deal with clerical sex abuse which effectively extends worldwide the norms currently existing in the US and the UK. According to the newspaper (my trans),
Archbishop Luis Ladaria, CDF secretary, is working on a "zero tolerance" policy which will prevent dioceses covering up clerical sex abuse of minors. Among the measures in preparation: suspension of priests accused of abuse, obligatory reporting of any allegation to the police, full collaboration with civil authorities (including access to documents and diocesan archives), lifting of the statute of limitations, and a fast-track laicisation process.
These will be Vatican guidelines which national bishops' conferences will have to adopt if they have not done so already. Failure to apply them will result in episcopal resignations. The guidelines are intended to ensure that both civil and canonical law can be implemented freely.
According to Rome Reports, the guidelines are expected in the Autumn but could be issued sooner.
One question I have been asked often by journalists in the last couple of weeks is, "why doesn't the Vatican simply demand that all countries where the Church operates adhere to the sort of guidelines which now exist in the UK?" My answer has been that Rome can only legislate in canon law; the question of how the Church should relate to the civil law of each country has to be left to each local Church, because in some cases it exists in totalitarian states or in places where the police could simply not be trusted. But while that reason came out of my mouth, my mind struggled to think of countries where would be true -- and why this was a more important consideration than the safety of the young.
This is a global crisis for the Church, and sooner or later it was going to demand a response from Rome. Only now, under Pope Benedict XVI, as the crisis reaches into the heart of the Church in central Europe, has Rome awoken from its many years of denial: this is not an Anglo-Saxon crisis; it is not got up by the media; and the rights of priests, while important, cannot be protected so vigorously that it allows for abusive priests to go unpunished and the young to be made vulnerable to further abuse.
The really significant step which this news heralds is that the culture of silence around this issue -a symptom, I argued in the Guardian earlier this week, of clericalism - needs to be defeated before the Church can declare the crisis over. And defeating clerical omertà requires the kind of radical transparency and accountability which the UK and US guidelines mandate.
It is also a recognition that Rome cannot, on its own, compensate for the deficiencies of national bishops' conferences in their response to clerical sex abuse. The CDF has a staff of only 10 dealing with abuse allegations; over the past nine years, according to one of its officials, Mgr Charles Scicluna, they have looked at 3,000 cases in which priests have been alleged to have committed abuse crimes in the last 50 years. But this is cleaning up after bishops who failed to act. The crisis will only be resolved when each bishops' conference can be relied on to deal properly with allegations past and present.
There are two countries which are next in line: Italy and Poland. In both countries, a very strong culture of bella figura attaches to the Church; last month, Msgr Scicluna said he was worried about "a certain culture of silence which I feel is still too widespread in the country (Italy)."
The Vatican will be hoping that the guidelines at least limit the impact of the crisis when it breaks there. Meanwhile, the Church elsewhere is under the spotlight, as recent stories out of Brazil and Norway show.
Until the new guidelines are published, it is hard to analyse their ecclesiological implications. But they portend greater Roman centralisation and increased episcopal accountability to secular authority -- a weakening, in other words, of the autonomy of bishops. The ramifications of this crisis spread far into the future.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests