The U.S. Catholic bishops and the Vatican are getting a bad rap on their rewriting of the protocol to protect children from predatory priests that was adopted in Dallas in June.

I started decrying child abuse by priests in 1985 and lost most of my friends in the priesthood for, in effect, breaking the code of silence. So the Catholic clergy may deserve the bad rap because of its own ineptitude. However, despite what you may have heard or read, the following did not happen at the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this week:

  • The lay review boards in every diocese are not being downgraded. They've always been advisory--though no bishop in his right mind rejects their "advice." Even if more than a few bishops are not in their right minds, they will be clobbered by all the others if they mess this up.
  • The bishops are not saying they do not have to report cases to the civil authorities. Quite the contrary, the suggested revisions underline this obligation.
  • The bishops have not given up the power to permanently prevent an abusing priest from doing ministerial work, no matter what may happen in the church's appellate process.
  • There is no major rewriting of the June document, save in matters concerning due process for accused priests. Here, bizarrely enough, the Vatican is playing the role of the American Civil Liberties Union: It is protecting the right of someone to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
  • It is not true that offenders from the past will be excused because of a statute of limitations. A bishop can still prevent such a man from doing ministerial work. Moreover, if he wants to throw the man out of the priesthood, he can apply to Rome for permission to suspend the statute. Such permission usually is granted.
  • There has been a lack of clarity in many news stories about the difference between ejecting a man from the priesthood, which requires due process by the church, and banning him from priestly ministry, which does not.

    How did all this confusion arise?

    First of all, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who headed the Vatican commission that reviewed the Dallas documents, seems to have thought that the proposals were adequate enough to be tested for two years. Unfortunately, this recommendation was overruled by others in Rome who had no sense of how angry American Catholics were.

    Then the American bishops made the terrible mistake of keeping the Rome document secret for four days last month while the media distorted it beyond recognition.

    Some major media, apparently having made a decision not to have Catholics cover the meeting (an exercise in anti-Catholicism, incidentally), sent journalists to Washington who didn't have a clue about the issues. Hence contradictory reports flooded the country all last week. What was in fact a minor adjustment to the Dallas protocols--mostly to guarantee due process for priests--became instead a stunning defeat. And the American Catholic laity, already furious at their leadership, became even more angry.

    The bishops managed to steal defeat out of the jaws of victory.

    The distortion was abetted by a few of the supposed victims' leaders who, reveling in their power and 15 minutes of fame, don't want any due process for the accused. They probably would not be satisfied if the Vatican had mandated castration for every priest in the nation.

    Here is the problem: The Vatican doesn't know what is going on in the U.S. The American bishops do, but they can't or won't explain it properly. So that leaves others to explain, and their motives are not to explain but to defame.

    more from beliefnet and our partners
    Close Ad