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Catholics React to Vatican’s Refusal to Approve US Bishops’ Plan on Sex Abuse

October 18, 2002

Statement of Frances Kissling, President of Catholics for a Free Choice

 The Vatican yesterday refused to approve the US bishops’ “Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Accusations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests, Deacons, or other Church Personnel.”  They did not offer any immediate relief for the victims, nor any interim plan for removing offenders from ministry and access to children.  This on-going charade has shown us the worst side of both the Vatican’s power and the US bishops’ powerlessness.

As Catholics for a Free Choice’s recently-released Shadow Report to the UN shows, this is a global crisis, and any response will have global consequences for the Catholic church. The refusal of the Holy See to take any action to protect children and punish child-abusing priests strengthens our resolve to push for UN attention in this matter.  The Holy See’s inactivity violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which it acceded in 1990.  Articles 19 and 34 of that convention explicitly call for measures to protect children from abuse—yet the Holy See refuses to take these measures, preferring rather to create more commissions to “reflect” on the problem and an appropriate response.

In the letter from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re rejecting the US bishops’ norms, the Holy See condemned sexual abuse by priests, but still failed to apologize to the victims of the abuse or to offer concrete examples of viable solutions, and maintained the incredible claim that sexual abuse of children by priests is limited to the United States.

We all recognize that due process should be followed before excluding any priest from office, but intermediate moves to remove the accused from any contact with children pending a thorough investigation should be a no-brainer even for those living in ivory towers, as both the US bishops and inhabitants of the Vatican do.  We also know that the church’s own law provides mechanisms for punishing not only the abusers, but also their superiors who were negligent in moving them between parishes, giving these predators the opportunity to abuse children again and again.  We demand that the church hierarchy take these matters seriously, using the law as it was intended – to protect the people of the church, and not the institutional image of the church and the hierarchy.

The Holy See has called for a “Mixed Commission” to try to develop an appropriate response.  However, this mix includes only bishops from the US and officials of the most powerful offices at the Holy See.  Where is the voice of the victims?  Where is the voice of the ordinary Catholics?

There is no doubt that if left to themselves the bishops and cardinals will go back and forth with commissions and recommendations, but will never address the real problem:  children around the world have been and continue to be abused by Catholic clergy and religious whose superiors refuse to step in to protect the most vulnerable.  Our hope now lies with the international community, and we renew our call to the UN to call the Holy See to accountability to the world for the terrible abuse it has allowed to continue.

Statement Ends