Monday, November 4, 2002

All right. Here we go.

The revised norms have been released. Here's the news story and here's the USCCB's page laying out the June and October proposed norms side by side.

The most significant changes involve the process after a priest is accused. That includes church tribunals to hear the cases of clerics who maintain their innocence and preliminary investigations that bishops will conduct privately.

The rewrite affects only rules that involve church law, leaving intact many aspects of the bishops' policy — or "charter" — approved last June in Dallas.

The new plan won immediate praise from the Rev. Robert J. Silva, president of the Chicago-based National Federation of Priests' Councils, which represents 27,000 of the nation's 46,000 clergy.

"It is a good, strong and, I think, effective policy that protects our children but also is clear about due process and rights for those who are the accused," he said.

But David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the changes "will enable abusive priests to remain in ministry, and unidentified, longer."

The reason David Clohessy says this is because in the old charter, the priest would be removed immediately upon the reception of an allegation. But...

Under the rewrite, an allegation triggers a "preliminary investigation," during which the priest remains in place and his reputation is protected, apparently meaning parishioners are not notified about the accusation. If "sufficient evidence" of abuse is uncovered, the Vatican would immediately be informed and the priest would be placed on administrative leave.

Be advised, though, that as far as established incidents of abuse goes, you can still call this zero-tolerance:

The key section of the policy on removing abusers says: "When even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priests or deacon will be removed permanently" from the ministry.

And that's a good thing. I see no reason why a man who commited "even" a single act of sexual abuse should remain in active ministry as a priest, even if that incident was twenty years ago. The victim has been paying the price of that abuse for twenty years. Now it's time for the perp to cash it in.

The only thing that I find confusing about this is the relation of the church process to civil law. I hope that anyone at all who ever experiences this horror will now go straight to the law, and let the DA deliver the news of an investigation to the bishop. I've never quite figured out how all of these investigations - civil and church - can work together in a timely fashion. I also am not sure if it's really advisable for a priest who's being investigated for the crime of abuse by the civil authorities to remain in ministry, from anyone's perspective.

A quick read tells me that this committee did what it had to do in order to bring these norms in line with canon law.

Lesson? Repeat after me. If an employee of the church harms you - file charges, file a lawsuit if you've a mind, and, if you're up to it, make sure the newspapers know all about it. Don't give church bureaucrats any time at all to start shoveling.

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