Sunday, May 15, 2011

At "Holy Office," A Fire Sale -- All Texts Must Go

With the long-awaited clarification on Summorum Pontificum now in the books, Friday's release of Universae Ecclesiae signaled the start of the Vatican's traditional six-week sprint toward 29 June's feast of Saints Peter and Paul -- and, with it, the end of the Roman Curia's yearly work-cycle.

The home stretch of the Holy See's calendar before the summer exodus from Rome is traditionally a time of deck-clearing of appointments and texts of all sorts. This year, though, the final lap's spotlight has fallen chiefly on the Palazzo del Sant'Uffizio (above) -- the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- which produced Friday's text, with another high-profile item set to drop tomorrow... and indeed, a third, as yet unannounced, significant move likewise expected from its halls in short order.

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Moving forward from the bolt-tightening of the 2007 motu proprio on the "Old Missal," Roman Noon tomorrow brings the CDF's publication of a "guidance" letter to the world's bishops on their response to clergy sex-abuse -- and, more particularly, "to aid episcopal conferences in their preparation of guidelines" for the handling of cases, both in the juridic and pastoral senses.

Four months after the Holy See released a new set of norms to reinforce the status of clerical abuse of the vulnerable among the "grave delicts" by clergy whose ultimate oversight is reserved to the "Holy Office," the congregation's LA-born chief, Cardinal William Levada, gave a presentation on the topic to the college of cardinals at their traditional daylong consultation with the Pope before last November's consistory.

At the time, a summary of Levada's relatio to the red-hats revealed that the Congregation was working on the additional guidance in order to ensure what was termed "a coordinated and effective program" for an optimal response both on reports of abuse, and likewise to bolster four key elements of "the increased responsibility of bishops for the care of the faithful entrusted to them":
  • "the listening to and welcoming of victims";
  • "collaboration with civil authorities";
  • "the need for effective efforts for the protection of children and young people";
  • and "an attentive selection and formation of future priests and religious"
Likewise of salient context here are the oft-repeated "four points" on healing the crisis, which Benedict XVI first shared with the Irish bishops on their ad limina visit in October 2006 (emphases added):
In your continuing efforts to deal effectively with this problem, it is important [1.] to establish the truth of what happened in the past, [2.] to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, [3.] to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, [4.] to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes.
Though many episcopal conferences in the global north have either crafted their own national guidelines on handling allegations or are in the process of doing so, most of the world's episcopates remain without their own across-the-board protocols. The last-decade advent of Rome's enhanced role in processing cases, however, has taken at least some of the burden off the local churches which previously, at best, were largely left to manage on their own and, at worst, found Vatican officials either of little help or even an obstruction to their attempts to remove predator priests.

At the same time, however, the new instruction on abuse norms curiously comes as the two episcopates hardest-hit by the scandals find their well-established local norms intended to restore trust both hit with serious doubts in the wake of recent developments.

Just last week, the Irish press spoke of "fury" and its hierarchy's own lead hand for child protection admitted his "frustration" as the annual report of the Isle church's internal agency on abuse revealed that of the 272 allegations received by the country's 26 dioceses in 2010, less than a fifth were forwarded (53, to be precise) to the national office.

In keeping with the protocols adopted by the Irish bishops, all 272 were shared with the civil authorities. Yet in light of concerns over "data protection," all the Irish dioceses likewise withdrew from an audit being conducted by the internal monitor -- the National Board for Safeguarding Children -- after the group's 2009 finding that the treatment of allegations in the diocese of Cloyne remained "inadequate and in some respects dangerous."

In response to that report, the Irish government extended the mandate of the judge-led body which conducted a state inquest into abuse in the archdiocese of Dublin for a probe of the Cloyne church. Following the panel's damning conclusions on the capital see released in November 2009, the second Murphy Report -- this time on Cloyne -- is expected to be published within weeks.

The rattled Cork diocese is currently vacant -- once a private secretary to three Popes, its longtime ordinary, Bishop John Magee, resigned in early 2010, nearly a year after Rome imposed an apostolic administrator on the diocese, publicly stripping the ordinary of everything but his title.

Following the National Board's update, no less than the editor of the Isle's lead church outlet, Garry O'Sullivan of the Irish Catholic, couldn't help but note that "'One in four' is supposed to be the name of an abuse victims advocacy and support group and not a statistic in 2011 for the number of abuse cases reported to the church abuse watchdog."

In the US, meanwhile, similar questions have arisen in the tumultuous fallout of February's second grand-jury report into the administration of the archdiocese of Philadelphia, which alleged that as many as 37 priests remained in ministry despite what it termed "credible" claims of misconduct, 21 of them suspended within weeks of the report's release.

With the "cases of concern" to the grand-jury having been reported even over recent years, the disclosures have made for the most egregious mishandling of cases to come to light since 2002's revelations from Boston that drew the Stateside church into a decade-long nightmare, its costs-to-date still being paid and inching ever closer to the $3 billion mark. Accordingly, beyond plunging American Catholicism's "last empire" into the most significant crisis it's known in nearly two centuries, the Philadelphia findings have shaken the foundations of the Charter and Norms passed by the nation's bishops at Dallas in the heart of the furore, with the understanding that what the history of clerical abuse and chancery cover-up that birthed Boston would never be repeated again.

As a result, what was planned long ago as a slight tweaking of the Dallas texts at next month's USCCB Spring Plenary in Seattle has escalated into what the conference's lead overseer of the Norms recently dubbed a full-out return "to [the bishops'] principal motivations in crafting the charter.

"We are going to be judged by the worst handling [of Dallas], not the best," Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane admitted to Catholic News Service, adding that the bench would look at "whether there was some sort of the breakdown of the system" in Philadelphia that could be possible elsewhere. (Over the weekend, an extensive recounting of the Philadelphia chancery's approach to cases was unleashed by the chair of the archdiocese's Dallas-mandated lay review board in an explosive piece for Commonweal magazine.)

Either way, the enforcement mechanisms of the Charter and Norms are likely to fall into the debate's cross-hairs; despite the grand-jury's laundry list critique of matters encompassing the treatment of cases and survivors alike, the Philadelphia curia passed every USCCB audit intended to ensure compliance with the Dallas protocols, including a check conducted in 2010, the result of which was announced following the release of the prosecutors' report.

And lastly, in a purely coincidental, but almost eerie turn of events, the bishops' Seattle discussion on abuse will take place in the presence of the prelate who's arguably garnered the strongest public goodwill, both at home and beyond, for his standout response to the crisis.

Long hailed in Ireland (well, most of it) as its hierarchy's lone trusted healer of the scandals, and fresh off a powerful recounting of his experiences at a Milwaukee conference on justice and renewal amid the storm last month, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin will be in attendance at the Stateside bench's upcoming plenary -- not to intervene on its key agenda-item, but to bring his US confreres up to speed on the Irish capital's preparations to host the 50th International Eucharistic Congress next summer.

Still, the confluence is enough to have raised at least some eyebrows... if not, given the state of things, rather more.

Yet even for the current challenges in the field, as the broad sweep of things goes, that the Vatican is taking the step of a supplement to prod local churches worldwide toward crafting their own abuse norms is further proof of the astonishing attitude adjustment the Curia's upper rungs have undergone on the crisis in a relatively short time-span ( least, that is, by Roman standards).

It was only nine years ago, after all, that when asked about the scandals at the press conference releasing Blessed John Paul II's annual Holy Thursday Letter to Priests in 2002, the then-chief of Clergy, Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, memorably rebuked the reporters on-hand, saying that the queries' provenance from English-speaking media provided "an X-ray of the problem" -- in other words, that the crisis was an Anglo-Saxon one and was effectively irrelevant in the universal church.

At the time, the thought was still an "acceptable" one in no shortage of Roman circles. But just to show how fully things have changed in the Palaces since, following last year's emergence of a 2001 letter in which Castrillón congratulated a French bishop for not reporting an abusive priest to the authorities -- for which the negligent prelate was subsequently convicted (and, within days of his 75th birthday, hastily yanked from office) -- the Colombian cardinal once considered Latin America's strongest papabile was, in essence, thrown under the Vatican bus.

On a related note, 2001 was likewise the year that the Clergy don's views on abuse cases saw then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrest their oversight from Castrillón's office to the jurisdiction of the CDF.

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So, that's another CDF nugget soon to drop. The last of the trio, meanwhile, is no sleeper when it comes to making waves both in ecclesial and news circles, especially on these shores: the decree establishing an ordinariate for Catholics from the Anglican tradition in the United States.

Of course, the unique structure was provided for in Anglicanorum coetibus, B16's groundbreaking 2009 initiative to ease the path to Rome for groups of Anglicans who sought to enter the Catholic fold in their existing units. Though no release-date for the text has officially emerged, the USCCB delegate for the ordinariate's establishment, Washington's ever-meticulous Cardinal Donald Wuerl, is understood to have conducted the heavy lifting of the needed discussions with the CDF -- the global project's coordinating dicastery -- during his lengthy stay in Rome earlier this month (which culminated with the DC prelate's taking possession of his titular church, the Basilica of St Peter in Chains, last Sunday).

After a recent round of chatter suggested that the decree could emerge within days, a thoroughly-briefed figure on the project's path demurred, saying he didn't wish to preempt the formal announcement. With Wuerl set to brief the Seattle meeting on the ordinariate plans, however, the document is predominantly expected to drop before the start of the Curia's summer recess, with the new jurisdiction envisioned to be "up and running" by the fall.

With the first ordinariate already established in England, and the groundwork well in progress for similar jurisdictions in Canada and Australia (but not without innuendo in the former), the venture's Stateside edition promises to be a unique and especially intense enterprise given both the country's (and, indeed, the communities') geographic spread, a fairly think "alphabet soup" of the various Continuing Anglican groups involved, and a facet particular to American Catholicism: the long-standing presence of Anglican Use priests and faithful, who crossed the Tiber long ago, but have been able to maintain an adapted version of the Book of Common Prayer for their worship, which was approved by the US bench and confirmed by the Holy See in 1983 for rites on these shores alone.

(By contrast, Anglican clergy and laity received elsewhere have been limited to celebrating the standard Roman liturgy and, all around, not been able to keep their traditions or communities intact. That'll soon change, however -- a key feature of the Anglicanorum provisions, work on a global liturgy for the ordinariates rooted in the Anglican patrimony is already underway, with some estimates tipping its release for as early as next year.)

As things stand, while several hundred Episcopalians and others coast-to-coast have indicated their desire to make the move, the presence of the Anglican Use parishes provides the impending national structure with a well-established set of "hubs" from the outset to help ease the transition. At the same time, the veteran communities' presence creates a scenario that won't be experienced with any of the other national jurisdictions: a divergence of experience between long-standing and freshly-arrived Anglo-Catholic groups, and the parts each will play in the wider picture of the new dynamic.

On a related note, while the lone ordinary already appointed, Msgr Keith Newton -- the former Church of England "flying bishop" ordained a Catholic priest in January on the same day he was named leader of the English and Welsh structure named for Our Lady of Walsingham -- every indication to date has been that his soon-to-be US equivalent is already a Catholic priest of some years' standing. And elsewhere, another consideration unique to the States has been rumored about -- namely, given the Episcopal Church's 2001 covenant with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which joined the two denominations in full communion, that American Lutherans wishing to be received as Catholics could be grandfathered into the set-up's Stateside incarnation.

Likewise an issue will be where a home-turf ordinariate will be headquartered. Though practically every nationwide ecclesial organ has its base in Washington or New York essentially by default, the most widespread presence of Catholic Anglicans and Continuing Anglicans alike has long been in Texas. With Episcopalian communities numbering in the high hundreds there already in meetings and preparations for the starting gun, the Lone Star State is likewise expected to bring the largest number of newcomers to the venture, and while a handful of communities set to move dot the Northeastern landscape, the scheme's take-up in the nation's historic Catholic "hub" has been fairly slim by contrast.

And lastly, the timetable on which the Stateside ordinariate's first paces will be accomplished bears watching, even if -- simply for logistical reasons born of geography and the diversity of the groups involved -- it likely won't equal the warp-speed with which the Walsingham group has entered the fold.

Following the reception of the English venture's founding three ex-bishops on New Year's Day and their ordination to the priesthood a fortnight later, the remainder of the 950-some members of the UK branch's "first wave" came into full communion during Holy Week, with their clerics being ordained to the diaconate during these Easter days, and most set to receive priesthood at Pentecost. (On a side-note in a unique scenario reflecting the Catholic ban on priests holding public office, a non-stipendiary CofE priest who serves as a judge became Walsingham's lone permanent deacon last weekend.)

While, on its own, the founding batch of English travelers made for the largest Easter class of receptions the British church has seen in decades, an even larger group is expected to undertake the journey when the first Ordinariate's second intake begins toward year's end.