Bishop Gregory's Remarks on Mixed Commission on Sex-Abuse Norms

Praise Curia’s «Great Pastoral Care» in Aiding with U.S. Crisis

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WASHINGTON, D.C. OCT. 18, 2002 ( Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. episcopal conference, issued the following statement today in Rome on the establishment of the Vatican-U.S. bishops’ commission related to the prelates’ «Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People» and its accompanying norms.

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Statement of the President
of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Most Rev. Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville
October 18, 2002

As President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I am announcing today, together with the Holy See, that a Mixed Commission is being appointed by the Holy See and our Episcopal Conference to engage in further reflection on and revision of the Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Clergy or Other Church Personnel, as well as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by our Conference at its semi-annual meeting last June in Dallas.

The Mixed Commission will be made up of four Bishops representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and four representatives from dicasteries of the Holy See that have competence in matters relating to the Norms and the Charter. The Episcopal representatives from the Holy See will be appointed from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for Clergy and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. I am now in the process appointing the Bishops who will serve as representatives of our Conference.

In a letter that I received earlier this week from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, the Holy See expressed its complete solidarity with the Bishops of the United States in our condemnation of the sexual abuse that has occurred within our dioceses and eparchies. It also acknowledged our efforts at addressing these difficult problems, recognizing in particular the central role of the Charter and the Norms in our work towards protecting minors and avoiding future recurrences of these abuses.

In acknowledging these efforts, the Holy See has identified several areas in these two documents that it believes need further discussion and greater precision in order to guarantee that our plan of action for the protection of our children will avoid misinterpretation and be in full accord with the universal law of the Church. There are three areas named in particular.

The Holy See wants to look at some of the provisions for action that we have called for in these documents, because as they are currently described they «are difficult to reconcile with the universal law of the Church» and, therefore, «can be the source of confusion and ambiguity.» An example would be the proper role of the review boards to be established in each of the dioceses and eparchies, as these are described in Article 2 of the Charter and Articles 4 and 5 of the Norms.

The Holy See also wants to look at some of the language that has been used in these two documents, because «the experience of the last few months has shown that the terminology of these documents is at times vague or imprecise and therefore difficult to interpret.» An example would be the use of the term «sexual abuse» which appears in Article 5 of the Charter and is defined in a footnote to that document.

The Holy See has likewise indicated that it would like to see further specification of «the concrete manner in which the procedures outlined in the Norms and the Charter are to be applied in conjunction with the requirements of the Code of Canon Law and the Motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela ….» An example would be the procedures for dealing with a priest who is known to have abused a minor. These procedures are identified in Article 5 of the Charter and Articles 7-12 of the Norms.

The purpose of the Commission is to bring the best wisdom of the Holy See and our Episcopal Conference to a discussion of these issues. Our goal is to finish our work in time for the results to be presented to our Episcopal Conference at our Plenary Assembly next month, and this effort will be a fully collaborative work. As one Cardinal Prefect said to me this week, when you describe the work before us to others please stress that it does not represent a conflict between the Holy See and your Episcopal Conference. Our task, he said, is one in which we will exercise «deep communion» in order to achieve «common agreement.»

That comment describes perfectly the spirit that has been communicated to me during the past several months in my communications with the Holy See. The Officials of the Roman Curia who have been involved with me in discussions on this matter, particularly this week, have shown great pastoral care in their sensitivity to the pain caused to victims, their commitment to the need to protect society from perpetrators of abuse, their regard for the respect that needs to be shown for the rights of the accused, and their pain at the anguish caused to faithful Catholics by this sinful and criminal conduct. I am deeply grateful to the Officials of the Curia for their fraternal solicitude, their counsel and their encouragement.

Above all, the Bishops of the United States are grateful beyond words to the Holy Father for strengthening his brothers in this time of trial. His address last April to the Cardinals of the United States and the Officers of our Conference gave us the inspiration that was needed to work toward a solution to this crisis in Dallas last June.

I am fully confident that the inspiration of the Mixed Commission will provide us with the guidance to bring this work to completion.

[Text released through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops]

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