Monday, April 07, 2008

The Don on Dialogue

The first reflected glare of next week's visit will, of course, go to Pope Benedict's first Stateside host -- and most-prominent US appointee to date -- Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington.

In case anyone didn't already know, the 66 year-old "education bishop" -- whose own catechism was once the global church's second biggest-seller after the Universal One -- has been practically aglow since his November birthday coincided with the PopeTrip's official announcement. But just days before welcoming a pontiff to the capital for the first time in three decades, it wasn't his anticipation that led the archbishop made a quick trip to Rome late last week; Wuerl headed over to deliver a long-planned lecture commitment at his alma mater, the Angelicum, on transreligious relations and the shared project for peace.

Given its length, the fulltext of the talk -- the first annual Pope John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Understanding -- has been put into a stand-alone post (albeit one with an archived date to keep reader complaints on main-page scrolling at a minimum).

As the visit's main interfaith event will be taking place in DC, those keen on nabbing a possible preview or two might find Wuerl's insights well worth a look.

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On a protocol/minutiae side-note, though Andrews AFB -- the site of the papal touchdown, located in suburban Maryland's Prince George's County -- falls within the boundaries of the archdiocese of Washington, as a military installation the base itself ecclesiastically belongs to the archdiocese for the Military Services USA.

Ergo, it won't be Wuerl, but the newly-installed Archbishop Timothy Broglio who, as Prelate of the Forces (and ordinary of the tarmac), gets first dibs on welcoming B16 onto American soil.

SVILUPPO: Speaking of the 11th bishop of Pittsburgh, yesterday's Post-Gazette featured Ann Rodgers' look at Before Dallas -- the newly-released canonical treatise on clergy sex-abuse from the former chair of the USCCB's national lay review board, Duquesne Law Dean-emeritus Nick Cafardi.
No bishop should have been shocked that priests could commit such crimes. Cases had been documented for centuries, [Cafardi said. One famous 11th-century cardinal, considered a father of canon law, wrote rules to deal with pedophile clerics.

"He said that they should be deprived of their tonsure, locked up for six months on bread and water and never left alone with a young person again," he said.

The 1917 code of canon law gave bishops authority to remove such priests without a church trial. But the 1983 code, in an effort to curb the arbitrary power of bishops, took away that power, he said. And because no such trials had been held within living memory, canon lawyers didn't know how to conduct them. They also believed they couldn't win, for reasons that included a short statute of limitations and a "catch-22" that forbade disciplining priests who offended due to mental illness.

The bishops were further stymied by a change that Pope John Paul II made in 1979, when he tried to stem a tide of priests who were leaving to marry. He made it impossible to laicize a priest against his will....

[E]ven when they knew they had the power, bishops rarely permanently removed offending priests, he said. Decades ago they treated sexual abuse as a spiritual problem, sent the offender on retreat and accepted promises not to sin again. Later, when sexual abuse was understood to be a psychological illness, they sent the priests for therapy and too readily accepted the treatment centers' claims of cure, he said.

But he cites bishops who were exceptions to that, including former Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl, now archbishop of Washington, D.C., to whom the book is dedicated. He recounts the bishop's 1993 battle with the Vatican's highest court, which he eventually persuaded to reverse a ruling that had ordered him to return to ministry an accused priest who the bishop was sure was guilty.

That case "both scared and paralyzed the other bishops. They felt that if Rome would not support them in the removal of abusive priests from ministry, what was the point of doing it?" Dr. Cafardi said.

Archbishop Wuerl "was, to the best of my knowledge, the only one who actually appealed a [Vatican] decision returning an allegedly abusive priest to ministry. He does stand out. He took on the Roman canonical system and said they had got it wrong. That took a lot of courage."

By the time the Boston scandal made national headlines in 2002, many Americans had forgotten the extensive news media coverage of the issue from 1985 to 1994. It had ended after CNN gave lurid publicity to an accusation against then-Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, only to have the alleged victim recant and apologize. Afraid of getting scammed again, many media backed off, he said.

It was bad timing, because a committee the bishops had appointed to address the topic was producing good proposals that would have prevented many future problems, he said. With the pressure off, their ideas remained mere suggestions until the 2002 meeting in Dallas, he said....

His biggest concern is that something like the false Bernardin accusation will deflect attention from the problem again, or that the bishops will become complacent and stop the outside audits of their dioceses on abuse prevention and response.

"I remain concerned, because the only way this problem even began to be solved was that the bishops, as a group, had their feet held to the fire," he said.
PHOTO: AP/Steve Ruark