National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Posted Wednesday, May 26, 2004 at 1:35 p.m. CDT
By John L. Allen Jr.
Another American cardinal has defended the lay-led body created by the U.S. bishops to monitor their response to the sexual abuse crisis, saying that the "vast majority" of bishops are grateful for its work.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago also told NCR May 25 in Rome that there will be opposition at the bishops' June meeting to a second round of sex abuse audits, but vowed that the majority of the conference will vote to move ahead.
"We promised to do it, and we'll do it," George said.
George's endorsement of the National Review Board echoed similarly positive comments made by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles to NCR on May 13.
As NCR reported May 11, the interim chair of the National Review Board, Illinois Justice Anne Burke, has charged that the board was "manipulated" because it had not been informed that some bishops want to delay a second round of audits to monitor compliance with the bishops' sex abuse policy.
In turn, some bishops complained about the tone of Burke's criticism. A few have suggested they're not sure the board is still needed.
George was in Rome for his every-five-year ad limina visit to the Vatican. The full text of the interview can be found here: George Interview.
The Chicago cardinal said he continues to favor the "zero-tolerance" policy in the American sex abuse norms, according to which priests are to be permanently removed from ministry for even one act of abuse, but sees room for "latitude" on what to do with those priests. Some, he said, might be able to serve as priests in clerical or administrative roles with no risk of contact with children.
On the debate over whether pro-choice Catholic politicians should be denied Communion, George refused to say whether he would administer Communion to Democratic candidate John Kerry. He said he is waiting for a report from a commission headed by Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
George said, however, that there is a difference between moral teaching and political strategies, and that the church should not take positions on the latter. He also said he has not given his clergy any instructions on how to respond if a pro-choice candidate presents himself for Communion.
George stressed that he believes the bishops should act in a unified fashion on the Communion question.
"The big complaint about the bishops around the sexual abuse scandal was, 'You guys don't have your act together. Act as one,' " he said. "This is something where we should try to act as one."
Responding to criticism from some of his brother bishops of the National Review Board, George praised the lay body.
"I'm not speaking for all bishops, but I think the vast majority are grateful," he said. "The report they did is very helpful, not that I would have to agree with every sentence in it. We owe a debt of gratitude to them."
"I think they comported themselves extremely well," he said.
NCR reporting has revealed that a group of more than a dozen Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania bishops wrote to Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, to warn against the autonomy with which the National Review Board is operating.
George said he is not concerned.
"The bishops have a responsibility to act, the board has an obligation to oversee, and at the bishops' own request, to examine them on what they're doing," he said. "I don't think the existence of the board takes away our responsibilities. It reminds us that we have a responsibility to Christ and to his people, and that's healthy."
George said that the future institutional role and profile of the board is something that will evolve, and this should be worked out by the bishops in consultation with the members of the board.
George was firm that a second round of audits will go forward.
"Opposition by a group doesn't mean that the whole group won't keep its promise," he said. "We have kept the promise of Dallas. We will continue with the second audit, we all know that."
As for the zero-tolerance standard, George said he's still for it.
"With a recidivism rate of 15 to 20 percent, you can't chance it," he said.
On the Communion issue, George said there is room for Catholic politicians in good faith to differ on whether to pursue judicial, legislative or cultural strategies to limit abortion.
"Those are questions of prudential judgment around which there can be many discussions," George said. "The church has not taken a position on which of those strategies is to be preferred, and I don't think we should."
George said Vatican officials are not pushing the American bishops on the Communion issue one way or the other.
"They're not going to come in and define pastoral practice in any country of the world," he said. "They shouldn't do that. It's not their competence."
Finally, George said it is striking that to date this seems an exclusively American discussion, despite the fact that other countries have Catholic politicians who differ with the church. Some of that, he said, may reflect the combative nature of American political life.
"We change culture and laws by crusades," he said. "You have ideological movements that are much more single-minded than perhaps in other countries."
John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
National Catholic Reporter, May 26, 2004
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