VATICAN CITY, APRIL 25, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The crisis caused by the abuse scandals of priests calls for total fidelity in living and preaching the Church´s teachings, say the U.S. Church leaders who met here.
The participants in the two-day meeting affirmed this conviction in a final statement that listed the proposals they will present at the U.S. bishops´ conference meeting in June.
Using severe terms against the sin of pederasty by priests, the document establishes that “the Pastors of the Church need clearly to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care.”
To achieve this objective, the U.S. cardinals and leaders of the bishops´ conference announced that they will present for the Holy See´s review “a set of national standards” in which “essential elements for policies dealing with sexual abuse of minors in Dioceses and Religious Institutes in the United States are set forth.”
In particular, the participants in the meeting propose “a special process for the dismissal from the clerical state of a priest who has become notorious and is guilty of the serial, predatory, sexual abuse of minors.”
Not only will there be a “special process” of expulsion from the ministry “for cases which are not notorious but [also] where the Diocesan Bishop considers the priest a threat for the protection of children and young people.”
For cardinals and bishops, the places of formation of future priests play a decisive role when it comes to avoiding these scandals. The final document proposes an “apostolic visitation,” namely, a thorough examination “of seminaries and religious houses of formation.”
The statement explains that this apostolic visitation must pay special attention “to their admission requirements and the need for them to teach Catholic moral doctrine in its integrity.”
Despite U.S. press speculation about possible changes in the rule on celibacy, the statement affirms categorically: “Together with the fact that a link between celibacy and pedophilia cannot be scientifically maintained, the meeting reaffirmed the value of priestly celibacy as a gift of God to the Church.”
The U.S. cardinals and bishops say they regard the crisis as an opportunity that “must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.”
At the same time, they insist on the “need to convey to the victims and their families a profound sense of solidarity and to provide appropriate assistance in recovering faith and receiving pastoral care.”
The participants propose to “set aside a day for prayer and penance throughout the Church in the United States, in order to implore reconciliation and the renewal of ecclesial life.”