My pastor asked me to write up something for this week’s parish bulletin explaining the results of this week’s US bishops’ meeting for parishioners who may only have heard what the secular media had to say about it. Feel free to cut and paste and mail this to your pastor for inclusion in your parish’s bulletin:
There has been much reporting in the secular press about the US bishops and the Vatican-revised Charter for the Protection of Youth, some of it inaccurate or sensationalized. Here are the facts:
1. The Vatican did not “water down” the norms as approved by the bishops in Dallas in June. Instead, it wanted certain vague provisions spelled out. For instance, sexual abuse was not adequately defined in the original charter—did it include the spoken word or a passing glance?
2. The revisions also spelled out the rights of priests. In US law, we enshrine the right of the accused to due process and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The revised charter now does that, too. An accused priest does not lose all his rights just because he’s accused. The credibility of the accusation is now weighed first, and if it is credible, further action is taken and investigations pursued.
3. The law review boards were not downgraded. In fact, the review boards never had any power over the status of priests. A priest acts as an extension of his bishop, and only a bishop has the right to strip a priest of his faculties to minister the sacraments and only the Pope has the right to laicize a priest—strip him of his right to live as a priest. The Vatican revision just spells out the review boards’ actual role as advisory—and a smart bishop will not ignore their advice.
4. A statute of limitations was imposed so that a victim needs to make his accusations before his 28th birthday. That does not mean that he cannot pursue the priest in the civil courts. In fact, a victim should go to the police before he goes to his bishop. The statute of limitations protects the innocent from accusations that are so old that no evidence remains to exonerate him. However, the Vatican did stipulate that a bishop must request an exemption to the statute if the accusations are credible and notorious, such as when multiple people come forward to accuse.
There were other changes made to the Charter, but those were the substantive ones. The important point now is that no policy will protect children unless we all are vigilant—bishops, priests, and laypeople. We should not excuse sexual misconduct by anyone and we must hold one another accountable. That is the true norm for protecting children.