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 The Word From Rome

March 26, 2004
Vol. 3, No. 31

global perspective


"Yes, if the emphasis is on the indefectability of the whole church, with the Petrine office as its head. What I understand the doctrine of infallibility to be protecting is the idea that the church will never err from God's will for it."

George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury,
answering the question: Could you accept the doctrine of papal infallibility?

Canonist criticizes U.S. bishops sex abuse norms; Martyrs of the Oriental Catholic churches in 20th century Europe; A conversation with the former Archbishop of Canterbury; John Paul's latest book


It’s no secret that many canon lawyers in the Catholic church are not wild about the American Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, which spell out the process for removing priests from ministry after one act of abuse. Canonists charge that the norms fail to respect the due process rights of accused priests, though most say they’re an improvement over the non-judicial process the American bishops envisioned in Dallas in June 2002.

Canonists are typically publicity adverse, so their concern has long taken the form of a whispering campaign. It broke into full public view, however, in Rome on March 25, at a conference on “Justice and Penal Processes in the Church,” sponsored by Santa Croce University.

Though no one will say so out loud, the conference is, in part, a response to the American sex abuse crisis.

Fr. Joaquín Llobell, a Spanish Opus Dei priest and professor of canonical procedure, delivered a paper on Thursday, March 25. Llobell sits on the apostolic signatura, a tribunal of the holy see, and is a judge on the appeals court of the Vatican City State. His paper was titled “Reconciling the interests of the injured parties with the rights of the defendant: the right to due process.” It offered a ringing defense of due process – and a criticism of both the American norms and the Vatican.

Llobell opened by asserting that respect for the rights of the accused is an “absolute necessity … so that any judicial act may be worthy of that name.” In fact, respect for due process, he suggested, is an “index for measuring the degree of civilization of a people.” He noted that the 1967 Synod of Bishops listed “defense of the rights of the faithful” among the core principles for the revision of the Code of Canon Law, completed in 1983.

Llobell said that several popes have insisted that the church’s legal system should be a speculum iustitiae, that is, a “mirror of justice” for the world. Llobell acknowledged that canon law sees protecting the community as a legitimate aim, but said this must be balanced against protecting the rights of the individual. He warned against a “subtle, but penetrating, temptation to mortify the rights of the single individual in order to protect those of the community.”

In arguments that cut against the “zero tolerance” policy of the American bishops, Llobell said that canon law has a bias in favor of rehabilitation of the offender, and that it seeks proportionality between offense and punishment – meaning that “one size fits all” penalties are foreign to canonical tradition.

The Spanish professor criticized the American Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People for asking bishops to inform civil authorities of any accusation against a priest, “perhaps without distinguishing sufficiently the origin of the report and its credibility.”

Llobell also took the American bishops to task for not pursuing canonical trials against abuser priests much earlier in the game. He charged that some bishops like to perform only the pleasant aspects of their job, leaving the pope or the Roman Curia to play the heavy. In fact, he said, the Roman Curia tried in the 1990s to convince the American bishops to set up inter-diocesan tribunals at the national level to process sex abuse cases, but nothing happened.

“Yet [American tribunals] manage to adjudicate around 50,000 cases of annulment of marriage every year,” Llobell said.

Llobell’s criticism, however, was not reserved to the far side of the Atlantic. He also expressed reservations about Vatican policy.

For example, he criticized revisions to sex abuse norms for the universal church approved by John Paul II in February 2003, which removed the statute of limitations, allowed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to defrock a priest using non-judicial means, and prevented appeal of a CDF decision.

On the question of appeal, Llobell pointed to a recent rejection by the CDF of an appeal from women excommunicated because they declared themselves ordained to the priesthood on a boat in the Danube River. Although Llobell said the excommunication was justified, he charged that the CDF’s refusal of appeal laid waste to papal guarantees that the dicasteries of the Roman Curia are not above the law.

On administrative means, Llobell quoted Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, a Pole who heads the Congregation for Catholic Education and who is a noted canon lawyer, that applying a permanent penalty this way is “a strong regress” on Vatican II teaching about the dignity of the human person and human rights.

Llobell noted that John Paul’s 2002 document Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, promulgating norms for the CDF on sex abuse cases, allows accusers to remain anonymous in some instances. Yet a cornerstone of procedural justice, he said, is the right to confront one’s accusers.

Let’s be clear: Llobell is no liberal reformer. He wonders aloud why bishops don’t prosecute priests who tolerate birth control in the confessional, and he applauds American Archbishop Raymond Burke’s denial of communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians.

For that reason, Llobell’s critique of the American bishops, and even the Vatican, takes on all the more significance. One can assume that what Llobell said out loud, other canonists around Rome are thinking – and that includes some who will be advising the Holy See on renewing its approval of the American norms, which expire in March 2005.

* * *

Llobell was not the only one with questions.

One of the strongest expressions of perplexity about the American norms, in fact, came from an American: Monsignor Kenneth Boccafola of Rockville Center, a judge on the Roman Rota. Boccafola is third in seniority among 28 judges on the Rota.

Boccafola said March 26 that because the norms are new, and procedures arising from them are confidential, it is difficult to draw lessons from experience. Still, he said, there are questions about “the difficulty of integrating certain provisions of the norms with general principles of ecclesiastical penal law.”

Those difficulties, according to Boccafola, include:

• Canon 9 stipulates that laws concern the future, not the past – meaning that a person cannot be judged under a law that did not exist at the time of his or her offense. Yet in some cases American priests have been permanently removed from ministry for decades-old acts of abuse, under a policy created in 2002.

• The norms do not take account of aggravating or extenuating circumstances.

• The ability of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to waive “prescription,” the canonical term for a statue of limitations, seems “an unfavorable change in the law to the disadvantage of the accused.” Boccafola said this practice is difficult to reconcile both with natural justice and with existing law on prescription.

• The “zero tolerance” policy, according to which permanent removal from ministry is automatic for any act of sexual abuse, does not allow proportionality between the crime committed and the penalty imposed. It seems to contradict canon 1344, which says a judge can always adjust a penalty according to his conscience and discretion.

• The definition of “sexual abuse” is so vague that it imperils the idea of uniform administration of justice.

• The norms claim to cover religious order priests, but Boccafola questioned whether the bishops have that authority.

Finally, Boccafola questioned article nine of the norms, which allows bishops to remove a priest from ministry using administrative means rather than a judicial process. He says this seems an attempt to resurrect the old canonical idea of a bishop suspending a priest on the basis of “informed conscience,” but Boccafola notes this was never a permanent penalty. It might have been better to bring back the idea of “informed conscience,” he said, rather than treating the power to suspend a priest indefinitely as part of the bishop’s ordinary administrative authority.

Bishop Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Apostolic Signatura, also argued March 26 against handling criminal matters through administrative means.

“Today the tendency is widely diffused to put things on an administrative level,” De Paolis said. “But it doesn’t seem that this tendency can be approved. The absence of the sense of justice and the exigency of repairing the order that has been violated is damaging both to the individual and to the community.”

Fr. Davide Cito, a canon law professor at Santa Croce, said the CDF’s ability to waive prescription on a case-by-case basis is hard to reconcile with universal law.

“Personally I don’t know how to reconcile the guiding principles of the canonical system currently in force with a faculty that at its extreme permits the application on a case-by-case basis of a norm unfavorable to the accused,” Cito said.

On prescription, Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the promoter of justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and thus the official principally responsible for sex abuse cases, took a different view.

“Practice indicates that the term of 10 years is not adequate for this type of case, and perhaps one could hope for a return to the previous system of imprescriptibility of grave delicts,” he wrote in his paper, referring to serious canonical offenses. By “imprescriptability,” Scicluna meant that such offenses would have no statute of limitations.

 * * *

When I taught church history to high school sophomores, I included a unit on martyrdom. One aim was to make the point that, whatever frustrations one might have with the church, there’s something sufficiently precious about it that serious people have died rather than part with it.

I fancy myself that I was a pretty good teacher. I’m certain, however, that a year with me would not have the impact on my students as 10 minutes with either 82-year-old Bishop Tertulian Ioan Langa, a Romanian, or 78-year-old Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk, a Ukrainian.

Both men appeared at a Vatican news conference March 23 to present the new volume Faith and Martyrdom: The Oriental Catholic Churches in 20th Century Europe. Published by the Vatican Library, the book collects documents from a 1998 meeting on the suffering of the Eastern Catholic churches in the 20th century. These churches, which follow Eastern customs and liturgies but are in full communion with Rome, found themselves on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, and paid a price in blood.

Langa and Vasylyk offered first-hand testimony.

Vasylyk was arrested in 1947 for carrying medicine to Ukrainian rebels fighting the Soviets, and was sentenced to 10 years in a gulag. He was ordained clandestinely in 1950.

“Conditions were worse than in the German concentration camps,” Vasylyk said. “People died from the cold, from various illnesses, and from constant humiliations against human dignity.”

Vasylyk was released in 1956, then re-arrested in 1959. He was offered a choice: convert to Orthodoxy, or stay in prison. He chose the latter, and was incarcerated until 1964. After his release, he was exiled for five years in a neighboring Soviet republic. The KGB monitored him constantly, always threatening to lock him up for propagating the Greek Catholic church.

Langa’s tale is even more harrowing.

Langa was arrested in 1946 at the age of 24 for refusing to join a union under the aegis of the Community Party and was sentenced to 20 years of forced labor. He recounted a series of mind-bending incidents from this time.

In 1948, for example, he was beaten by guards with an iron bar on his feet every day for two weeks.

“The shocks seemed to run up my spinal column and explode in my brain,” he said.

The guards didn’t ask questions, Langa said. They beat him just to prove that they could. Next, they tied his hands and feet and forced his head down, stuffing a sock in his mouth.

“It had been used in my boots, and in the mouths of other beneficiaries of socialist humanism,” Langa said bitterly.

At this stage, Langa said, he was incapable of protesting. The guards interpreted his silence as fanaticism, and intensified the torture.

The apex came on Holy Thursday when the guards produced a dog that looked to Langa more like a wolf. They ordered Langa to run back and forth in his cell, which was two by three meters. Every time he paused from exhaustion, the dog was trained to bite him on the shoulders, neck and back. After 39 hours, the guards finally let him stop. The object was to force Langa to write a confession denouncing everyone he knew, something he refused to do.

Afterwards, Langa was transferred to a prison eight meters underground, where the lack of air forced prisoners to take turns breathing deeply. The stench of feces and urine was overpowering. He was later moved to an above-ground location where “we lived on less than a chicken gets.” To survive the cold, prisoners had to stay in constant motion. Langa motivated himself by repeating, “I don’t want to die!”

The striking thing about all this is that Vasylyk and Langa weren’t suffering 1,700 years ago, or in a far-off land. This was a scant 40 years ago, and in locations just an hour’s plane ride from la dolce vita in Rome.

On the pope’s 2003 trip to Slovakia, I interviewed an elderly Jesuit in the capital city of Trnava who had had similar experiences. Talking later to young people in his parish, I was dumbfounded to find that they didn’t know his story, because he had never spoken of it.

At the news conference, Andrea Riccardi, a historian and founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, summed up the case for keeping these memories alive.

Speaking of Eastern Christians, Riccardi said: “In difficult times like the 20th century, a century of democracy but also of totalitarianism, their condition was that of martyrdom, the martyrdom of a people. This isn’t a lamentation, or rhetoric … it’s history. And, for the church, it’s a memory of faith.”

* * *

After the panel broke up, Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, prefect of Congregation for the Oriental Churches, was asked the burning question concerning Eastern churches these days – will there be a patriarchate for the Greek Catholic church in Ukraine? At present, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, is recognized as a “major archbishop,” but his 5.5-million-strong followers want to proclaim him a patriarch. The debate puts the Vatican between the rock of Ukrainian insistence, and the hard place of opposition from the Orthodox who fear Catholic expansionism.

Will the Eastern Catholics remain second-class citizens, a colleague asked Daoud, if the Vatican holds this request at arm’s length?

“You can’t say this,” Daoud responded. “The Oriental churches are accepted and considered equal churches with full canonical rights. There are motives of opportunity for not offending the Orthodox sister churches, but not for minimizing the value of these [Eastern Catholic] churches.”

Not surprisingly, Vasylyk had a different view. I asked him if he felt the Ukrainians had earned a patriarchate through their suffering.

“It’s justified not only on the basis of our martyrdom and suffering, but in consideration of the faith of the people,” Vasylyk said through a translator. “It is a lived faith, based on love for the Holy Father and for Rome. Also, in part it’s a question of governance. The Ukrainian church already has a patriarchal structure. On the basis of all this, I would say yes, the Ukrainian church merits this recognition of its status.”

Does he feel that until they get it, the Ukrainians will be second-class citizens?

“What touches us is not that we feel small without the recognition,” Vasylyk said. “The patriarchate is necessary not to prove that we exist, but in part to give us strength before the Ukrainian government. We are a people with a large base of believers, and there are other churches with fewer believers that already have this status.”

* * *

George Carey, who stepped down after 11 and a half years as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, is in Rome for a few weeks this spring as a guest lecturer at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University. On March 23, he and his wife Eileen spoke at the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier del Caravita on their experiences in the ecumenical movement.

Carey’s most newsworthy remark concerned a 1991 response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog agency, to the final report of the first round of Anglican-Catholic dialogue. That response appeared in the midst of a wrenching debate within the Church of England over the ordination of women. Carey hypothesized that Anglicans might have been persuaded to “go slow” on the women’s issue if the CDF had not “taken the steam out of the ecumenical movement.”

I write about this topic more in “Anglican ordination of women hastened by Vatican document,” which appears in the April 2 issue of National Catholic Reporter.

The Careys, who have four children and 13 grandchildren, described their background in the conservative, “low church” evangelical wing of the Church of England. They described struggling to maintain what they see as best about that tradition – a love for scripture, deep moral seriousness – while also transcending its closed, anti-ecumenical worldview.

Carey said he was born in London’s East End into a cockney working-class family. He became involved in an evangelical youth group, but “couldn’t take the narrowness – no drinking, no dancing, no cinema.”

Whenever someone from the evangelical wing preached, Carey said, “it was always anti-Roman.”

His reaction? “Come on, they can’t be that bad.”

When the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, the formal body for dialogue between the two denominations, began issuing documents, Carey said the evangelical consensus was sharply negative. He defended its findings on the Eucharist and on ministry.

“I felt these were astounding agreements with which I could wholeheartedly agree,” Carey said.

During Carey’s term as Archbishop of Canterbury, he visited the Vatican six times, more than all his predecessors. He supported ARCIC’s document The Gift of Authority in 1999, which proposed that a universal primacy (i.e., the papacy) could be acknowledged even before the branches of Christianity are in full communion. In a way, Carey provided a model through his close relationship with John Paul II.

“There is a sense in which I saw him as a senior brother in Christ,” Carey said. “I still do.”

Carey summed up his attitude to Anglican-Catholic relations.

“I’m impatient by nature,” he said. “I look at our churches, which are so much alike in so many respects. I attend Roman masses, and feel this could easily be a Church of England service. I wonder why we can’t be committed to one another and have agreement on unity tomorrow,” Carey said.

“Then the other side of me says, we have to leave it to God,” Carey said. “The journey must continue.”

* * *

During discussion, Carey was asked if he had ever considered entering Roman Catholicism. “No, this was never a temptation,” he said. “I love my church. I love its argumentativeness, its untidiness, its openness.”

Carey acknowledged that in moments like the present, when the Anglican Communion is badly divided over the consecration of a gay bishop in the United States, he looks longingly at Roman Catholic’s more muscular hierarchical tradition.

At the same time, Carey said, strong central authority has to be balanced by collegiality among the bishops. In that sense, he said, Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism have much to learn from one another.

In words that will cheer Catholics concerned about Anglican “fuzziness,” Carey stressed that this mutual exchange has its limits.

“Not everything is open for discussion,” he said. “There is a given-ness about the Christian faith, its scripture, its tradition and its reason.”

“Sometimes,” Carey said of his own Anglican Communion, “we’ve gone too far, given room to people who doubt too freely.”

Carey noted that both Catholics and Anglicans have taken steps to separate themselves from one another. On the Catholic side, the most important stumbling blocks came in the 19th century, with the Marian dogmas and the proclamation of papal infallibility. For Anglicans, the problematic moves are more recent: women’s ordination, and now homosexuality.

On the latter issue, Carey is firmly in the conservative camp.

“I’m a traditionalist,” Carey said. “I don’t believe there are cogent reasons for making practicing homosexuals ministers in the church of God.”

I asked Carey about papal infallibility. Is there a sense in which he can accept the doctrine?

“Yes, if the emphasis is on the indefectability of the whole church, with the Petrine office as its head,” Carey said. “What I understand the doctrine of infallibility to be protecting is the idea that the church will never err from God’s will for it.”

* * *

Just before the Caravita talk, Carey had returned from a visit to Israel and Palestine. On the assassination of the Hamas founder, Carey said it will make the situation “far worse.”

“It was a reckless, stupid act,” he said. “I can’t understand what Israel is playing at. They are pouring oil on the fire.”

At the same time, Carey acknowledged that Sheik Ahmed Yassin gave credence to the idea that suicide bombers are martyrs to Islam, something he called a “terrible creed.” At the same time, Carey insisted that his murder will “only cause more violence.”

* * *

John Paul’s pop star-style reign as “king of all media” continued this week, with the release of a new CD and the gala announcement of a forthcoming book.

Multimedia San Paolo, a division of the media-savvy Paolini religious community, published the CD, entitled Alza la voce can forza (“Raise your voice with strength,” a phrase from Isaiah 40:9). It’s a collection of 25 readings from the Bible, mostly psalms, set to music, with the voice of the pope commenting on each text.

This is the second papal CD produced by the Paolini. The first, Abba Pater, was issued in 1999.

Meanwhile John Paul’s new book promises to be a major global publishing event, judging by the gala news conference staged by the Italian publishing giant Mondadori at Rome’s Exclesior Hotel on March 24.

A decade ago, Mondadori published the pope’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope, which sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. On Wednesday, officials said they hope to equal or surpass that mark this time around.

Entitled Alzatevi, Andiamo! (“Get Up, Let Us Go,” a quote from Mark 14:42), the book will offer John Paul’s reflections on his ministry as a bishop. It is in a sense a follow-up to his 1996 title Gift and Mystery, which dealt with his experiences as a priest.

The book will appear on May 18, the pope’s 84th birthday. Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls said it is a combination of autobiographical memories of the pope’s experiences as a bishop, and his religious reflections on those experiences.

Navarro said the pope wrote the book between March and August of 2003, jotting some of it in his own hand and dictating other parts. Some Italian papers speculated that this might be the pope’s last published work, but Navarro insisted that there will be others.

One reporter pressed Navarro, noting that “Get Up, Let Us Go” are words Jesus uttered only hours before his death.

“Yes, but in Catholic theology there is always the resurrection,” Navarro quipped in response.

Mondadori refused to say how much it paid the Vatican publishing house for the worldwide rights to the new title.

“We never reveal the details of our contracts,” Gian Arturo Ferrari of Mondadori told a crowded ballroom full of reporters. “Given that we normally don’t do this, we certainly are not going to do it with the pope.”

Navarro-Valls told reporters that earnings will be directed by the pope to whatever charitable cause he judges most pressing at the time. With Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Ferrari said, proceeds went to the construction of churches in Eastern Europe.

Because the late founder of Mondadori, Leonardo Mondadori, was an admirer of Opus Dei, the same Catholic group to which Navarro belongs, some observers speculated that ties between Mondadori and Opus Dei might explain the Vatican’s decision to award them the contract. Aside from the fact that both parties deny any such relationship, however, the hypothesis seems improbable given that Mondadori was the Italian publisher of the Da Vinci Code.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is

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