The debate was led by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, one of four U.S. members of the mixed Vatican-U.S. commission, which reworked the norms prior to the November meeting.
“We are often asked to choose between the accuser or the accused,” Cardinal George said. “Of course, as bishops, we must choose both.”
Cardinals Roger Mahony, Anthony Bevilacqua, Bernard Law and William Keeler all rose to support the revised norms. Cardinal Bevilacqua suggested the bishops’ conference establish a model for how to deal with reported cases of abuse so that bishops and diocese, for example, will know how to write the appropriate letter to the apostolic nuncio.
“The norms are reasonable for us to proceed forward,” said Cardinal Law, but he cautioned that the next two years will be a challenging time for bishops who must learn how to deal with priests who have had a deep conversion experience after being accused of abuse. “Our work is not done,” he said.
Archbishop Francis Hurley of Anchorage was an outspoken critic of the revised norms. “We have not listened to our priests,” he said. “Trust will be restored through our priests. They have to be part of the solution.”
Cardinal George responded by saying there needs to be more “fraternal correction” among the clergy. He said the idea of “protecting our own” has resulted in the current situation and that priests have been consulted at various levels of the ongoing debate.
Bishop Joseph Galante of Dallas said the bishops “gave up their discretionary power” by failing to deal with abusive priests in the past. “That is a small price to pay for having misused the power before,” he said.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington said he agreed in principal with Archbishop Hurley, but would still vote in favor of the norms. “We must move forward,” the cardinal said. “We have to put an end to this. We have no choice.”
Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger of Evansville pleaded with the bishops to consider the cases of Sts. Peter and Paul, both of whom stumbled in their faith, but were later given the opportunity for redemption. “Is there no room for us bishops to get it right?” he asked.
Cardinal George said the bishops are no longer the judges in abuse cases. “The bishop is not the jury, judge and executioner.”
Bishop Sean O’Malley, the newly installed bishop of Palm Beach, made perhaps the most emotional plea for the bishops to adopt the norms. The Palm Beach Diocese has had two bishops removed from office after accusations of sexual abuse surfaced. Bishop O’Malley said there is not enough reporting of crimes and he asked the bishops to remember the psychological damage done to the victims and children.
It is optimistic to think that the scandal is over now that the norms have been approved. It remains to be seen how these norms will be implemented at the local level and there are two unsettled issues: will the bishops approve the idea of a plenary council and what will the Vatican find when it visits U.S. seminaries.
(Michael Flach is editor of the Arlington Catholic Herald. This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)