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Our view: Scandal warrants more than ‘particular’ attention Duluth News Tribune

Published Wednesday, April 16, 2008
It is of little surprise that among those most closely watching Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to America this week are the victims of clergy sexual abuse and their advocates. With U.S. Catholic dioceses still reeling and feeling the financial impact from the child molestation scandal that exploded in 2002, it’s not surprising also that the pope’s first significant remarks on the trip (while still over the Atlantic) was of being “deeply ashamed” by those events.

“It is a great suffering for the Church in the United States and for the Church in general and for me personally that this could happen,” he said, promising, “We will do everything possible to heal this wound.”

Unimpressed, Milwaukee’s Peter Isley, a leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, dismissed Benedict’s words as a “few vague, brief remarks,” and noted: “The Pope has established a worldwide policy on saying Mass in Latin. He has not established a worldwide policy on child sex abuse.”

That may sound like a cheap shot or comparison of two unconnected elements, but Isely has a point: The well-publicized “Norms for the protection of children and young people,” adopted by U.S. Catholic bishops in 2002-03 and sent to then-Pope John Paul II for his acceptance as church law, did not change Catholic policy worldwide. Rather, in the somewhat cloaked language of Catholic canon, the U.S. bishops’ actions were deemedparticular law of the church, meaning affecting only the United States, and for a designated period of time only. While other countries, such as Ireland, may have equally suffered from similar abuses and cover-ups, particular law governing the U.S. church has no bearing on the rest of the world’s billion Catholics, from Poland to the Philippines.

As the former head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict is well-versed in church law and the magnitude, if not true change, a worldwide policy could have in curtailing abuse. If priests actually got away with molesting altar boys or girls in the relative broad daylight of American society, one can only shudder at the possibility for abuse against an impoverish child in an unempowered Third World family.

Troubling as well is the implication of the crisis as something to apologize for while on a plane to Washington, suggesting it is a problem particular to the United States.

It is not, no more than the Vatican’s great humanitarian efforts or the power and beauty of its piety is limited to Rome. A worldwide policy by the church against clergy child sexual abuse is warranted, reflective of the teachings of Jesus at the religion’s core