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National Catholic Reporter ®

Global Perspectives
From our Rome Bureau


American zero tolerance policy headed for trouble in Rome, sources say

Church in Australia also struggles with sex abuse scandal

Cardinal's 'persecution' remarks play to mixed reviews in Europe

Posted Monday, June 17, 2002
Number 4

Five Vatican offices will review new charter


Five Vatican offices will examine the norms on priestly sexual abuse adopted by the U.S. bishops in Dallas. The senior prelates who head those offices all took part in the April 23-24 summit meeting with the pope and the American cardinals.

Speaking on background, one Vatican official predicted that the review would be “fairly rapid,” meaning a matter of weeks rather than months.

“We know we need to give a sign to the American church,” he said.

Officially, the norms will be addressed to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, headed by Cardinal Angelo Sodano. But a Vatican spokesperson told NCR June 17 that the document will be turned over for review to the following agencies:

  • The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger;
  • The Congregation for Clergy, headed by Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos;
  • The Congregation for Bishops, headed by Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re;
  • The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, headed by Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez;
  • The Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, headed by Spanish Archbishop Julian Herranz.

Ultimately, the decision to grant a recognitio, which would elevate the norms to the status of church law for the United States, rests with the pope.

There is nothing preventing individual bishops from implementing the norms attached to the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” adopted in Dallas immediately, and most American bishops are expected to do so. Nevertheless, in order for the norms to be legally binding on all American bishops, they must receive Vatican approval.

The Vatican official added that while some reservations endure about the approach adopted by the U.S. bishops during their June 13-15 meeting in Dallas, nevertheless the final document seems “much more balanced” than the first draft circulated in advance of the Dallas meeting, which had “generated some perplexity” in Rome.

Two of the Vatican officials likely to be involved in the review process have expressed reservations about some elements of the plan adopted by the U.S. bishops. Herranz and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, the number two official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, have opposed so-called “automatic reporter” policies that require bishops to turn over all allegations of abuse to the police. Both have argued that such a policy would taint the relationship of trust a bishop should enjoy with his priests.

Both men have also criticized the atmosphere of overwhelming public pressure in which the American bishops shaped their new policies. On April 29, in a lecture in Milan, Herranz complained of “exaggeration, financial exploitation and nervousness” in the United States in the wake of sex abuse scandals.

Sources told NCR that how swiftly and how favorably the Vatican reacts to the U.S. norms will depend in part on how effectively the American bishops, and especially the American cardinals, “sell” the charter in Rome. The fact that most of the residential cardinals spoke in favor of the charter at Dallas, one source said, could be a positive sign of their commitment.