Short-lived scoop on Vatican changing laws on sex abuse

April 19, 2008

The New York Times, 19 April 2008Ouch! Just imagine you write the top story on the front page of the New York Times — and it gets promptly denied. That’s what happened today. Time had the same story, too, but only on their Web site. In both cases, the journalists were trying to pin down what if anything comes now, after Pope Benedict has spoken so strongly about the shame of the sexual abuse scandal and his determination to bar pedophiles from the priesthood. The victims who met him felt very strongly that Benedict’s gesture was a promise of more steps to come. But what? We had a story examining this question yesterday but we were not among the few at a closed lunch with Cardinal William Levada organised by Time for a few U.S. journalists.

The story the NYT and Time took away from that session was that Levada, who succeeded the pope as the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, had hinted that the Catholic Church was considering changing its laws to pursue more abuse cases. More specifically, he was supposed to have said it was considering lengthening the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases. Under current canon law, an abuse victim has to report within 10 years of his or her 18th birthday. Levada said some victims took longer to come to grips with the issue and should be able to report abuse and see it investigated even if it happened more than a decade ago.

Cardinal William Levada, 24 March 2006/Tony GentileWe saw the NYT report on Friday evening and it didn’t seem watertight. We’d also been told that Time was going to post the transcript of Levada’s remarks, but it wasn’t posted late Friday evening. So we left it over for Saturday.

The first opportunity to check this was after the pope’s Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The chief Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, gave a briefing and was asked right away what Levada had said about the reports. Here are the operative quotes from a lively session in Italian and English:

“This morning, Cardinal Levada told me they hadn’t understood it correctly. There is no change coming … Levada said the norms he spoke of were already in force.”

“He told me this this morning after reading the article in the New York Times.”

“He said we didn’t talk about anything new. The things we spoke about are already in force.”

Asked if Levada meant the journalists had misunderstood him, Lombardi said, “That is what I understood.”

So if the statute of limitations has already been extended, nothing new is coming there. Talk about changes to canon law were already in the air yesterday and I asked a specialist what he thought could happen. “I haven’t seen what law could be put into place that hasn’t already been put into place,”Mgr. Charles Guarino, a canon lawyer in the Rockville Centre diocese on Long Island, told me. “It’s already in the code of canon law in terms of what precautions need to take place and what responsibilities exist for seminary rectors and local bishops.” Guarino used to work with the pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger at the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the job Levada has now). He focused especially on the U.S. sexual abuse cases and he works on those cases in the Rockville Centre diocese now.

Something else came out of the Levada lunch and Beliefnet’s blogger David Gibson zeroed in on it. He said the U.S. cardinal

bristled at a suggestion that some bishops had “aided and abetted” priest-abusers by not acting to remove them.

“I don’t believe that,” Levada said. “I know bishops who have said to me, if I had known then what I know now, I would have acted differently.” But he said the bishops who moved abusers around to other parishes or did not remove them from ministry were acting on bad advice from experts and psychiatrists.

“So it [the scandal] has been a learning experience for bishops,” the cardinal said.

“I personally do not accept that there has been a broad base of bishops guilty of aiding and abetting pedophiles … If I thought there were, I would certainly want to talk to them about that.”

Cardinal Bernard Law presides at Mass in Saint Mary Major Basilica in Rome, 10 April 2005/stringerSome critics have said the Church should not only remove pedophile priests but also the bishops that shuffled them around and tried to cover up the problem. In his comments above, Levada disputes the contention that many bishops did this. Guarino also did in his comments to me. So that doesn’t look like a place to expect changes either.

Another suggestion from critics has been that Cardinal Bernard Law, the former Boston archbishop who resigned at the height of the sexual abuse scandal, be removed from the senior post he was given in Roman exile. Law is archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, a prestigious post that is quite public. He has several other responsibilities at the Vatican, but they are internal.

What do you think about how the Church has handled this scandal? Should some bishops have to carry the can for it? Would you think Law should step down from his public post?

25 comments

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So now the news media is beginning to get a glimpse of what survivors of sex abuse by priests have been dealing with. It seems the catholic hierarchy is stumbling and can’t keep up with their hypocrisy and lies about the issue of sex abuse by priests, and by bishops.Yes, I think that all bishops who have covered-up, aided and abetted criminal behavior against innocent kids should be held accountable. Law is never going to step down, but he needs to be fired. Many other Cardinal and Bishops need to be fired also.Our law enforcement and our legislators need to open their eyes. Cannon laws mean nothing. The criminal and civil laws of our country need changed. We Americans can make this happen, we can not make the Catholic church cannon laws change, not when you have these men who running the church. They have no reason to change cannon laws, but we have thousands of reasons to change our laws of the land. Thousands of victims deserve justiced, and thousands of innocent kids need to be protected from this horror.

Posted by Judy Jones | Report as abusive

According to the Time magizine article, Cardinal William Levada was asked whether the Vatican should consider changes to canon laws in regards to the priest rape and fornication scandal, Levada said, “It’s possible. There are some things under consideration that I’m not able to say.”

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

If the Church didn’t tell the truth about priests fornicating with children for decades, why should they be trusted to tell the truth now about anything?

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

Ouch! ???

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

I am a survivor, but I actually laughed out loud yesterday when I read the report of what Levada said. The very idea of changing canon law, which has nothing to do with the problem anyway, made me comment to the fact that it will be the year 3008 before a change can be made. Sorry, my sense of humor has saved my life more than once.IMHO, this visit by the pope resulted in nothing but more of the same old song and dance, fuzzied up to attract the flock for more fleecing. Obviously the Pope needs the income generated by Roman Catholics in America. To expect truth and justice is a pipe dream. Worse, to enable these activities and the coverup is to enable the abuse of children and vulnerable adults.In fact, all of the flock is being abused by this church in one way or another. Think about it.

Posted by Kay Goodnow | Report as abusive

Rob, that line in Time comes closer than what’s in the NYT story, but the denial covers that as well. Some Vatican reporters in the press room have said Levada can be quite vague when he speaks, so they were not surprised by all this.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

Levada’s hands are not altogether clean. A number of molestations were reported during his tenure in San Francisco, and he himself has been accused of hiding perpetrators. It is in his personal interests to exonerate brother bishops that have similar accusations pending against them. This is the context in which Levada’s remarks should be taken. As for the teaser about changing the statute of limitations in canon law, that sounds like the all too familiar bait-and-switch tactic this church has employed on nuerous occasions in the past.

Posted by Udo Strutynski | Report as abusive

The clergy sex abuse crisis will never become part of history until ALL VICTIMS OF SEX CRIMES committed by employees of politically-connected religious institutions, have a choice returned to them. The choice to either seek justice in a court of law or not seek justice in a court of law. If a victim seeks justice, no obstructions of justice and legal claims of religious privilege should ever enter the courtroom. Afterall, since when was freedom of religion privilege a pass to sexually abuse anyone???? Never.Pope Benedict has shown the world that it is time for all Catholics and non-Catholics to find listen to personal stories of clergy sex crimes that destroyed the lives of children and families for decades, while politics protected the criminals from accountability in a court of law. Cardinal Levada, as Prefect for the Congregation of Faith and Pope Benedict have the moral responsibility to call off the DOGS…, the DOGS are the attorneys hired by Bishops and religious institutions who argue that freedom of religion privilege is a free ticket to sexually abuse without consequences.Without justice, there will never be peace. Without peace, faith and our country’s laws are empty.

Like any major corporation, Cath. Church.Inc, does what it needs to do to remain in business. The CEO, pope, ordered a house cleaning for public consumption and to show good PR. A file will be started internally and that file will be fed forms showing interviews maybe; but, as longs as the offenders are part of the corporate structure very little will be done to take these offenders out of their positions of influence.

Posted by shhaz | Report as abusive

Cardinal Levada has either a frightningly poor memory or a perverse sense of comedy to state that he does not accept that most bishops were complicit in the coverup of pedophile priests. Levada himself, as archbishop of San Francisco, admitted under oath that he knew since 1996 that the chancellor of his diocese, Rev. Gregory Ingels, was a pedophile and still made him the chief canon lawyer for the archdiocese and then after the Boston Scandal in 2002, Cardinal Levada placed Rev. Ingels as chief advisor to the clergy sex abuse review boards forming all around the country. Levada was among the first bishops who knew in 1985 the extent of this coverup and did nothing about it but cause the church a loss of two billion dollars and counting. His misstatement of facts is worse than disingenuous, as his words protect pedophile bishops and enabling bishops, like himself, from justice, while pedophile priests(and the majority have not been identified)continue to be protected and promoted. There used to be a word for this kind of thing in government, at least. I think it was treason. Shame!

Posted by Augusta Wynn | Report as abusive

Its all a bunh of BS to me.. the Priests that raped those poor children back then needed to be incarcirated and put intot he same situation thatthey put the victims in.. maybe it did not happen to me but the pope fuzziating the situation with the victims needed to also hand each and everyone of them a check for a large amount of money.. we put opur faith in clergy allover the world and when they take advanrage of some young boy or girl, im sorry but they need to pay for whatthey have done.. puttig them behind bars is only part of th epunishment.. they shouldbe compensated with some cash and lots of it as well. sirry if this makes anyone mad out there.

Posted by Franky Beans | Report as abusive

it stinks,, the whole damn thing stinks..

Posted by Franky Beans | Report as abusive

My dear friends, the only reason there has been any justice against the criminality of priests is because you do not live in a country founded upon and run by this mentality. Please imagine the situation in Italy, where I live, where girls who come forward are treated as criminals, and priests who marry lose their state retirment pension because the Vatican wants it that way. In Italy the Vatican receives One Billion Euro per year from Italian taxpayers through a fradulent collection scheme, and owns 25% of all real estate holdings in the country. The Vatican just evicted 200 poor people out of their houses in central Rome so they can turn them into luxury apartments and B$B’s. I do not understand why we want an organization like this training our foreign diplomats at Georgetown, or acting as the “moral voice” of the country. As one Italian historian of American history said two nights ago on Italian national television, the Roman Catholic Church is a “criminal organization”.

Posted by George Bateman | Report as abusive

This is the first time I have ever posted a blog, so I am not sure what the rules are or exactly what I am allowed to say. However, there is a large burden on my heart that I MUST voice to someone.I think that the Catholic sex abuse facts and statistics are ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING. I am of the opinion that not nearly enough has been nor is beeing done to stop this behavior.I thank God everyday that I am not a member of this embarassment of a faith. I also believe that no matter what the Pope or the priests say, the low-life clergy that inflicted such horror on these victims, these children, WILL and SHOULD BURN IN HELL.I think that the Lord that I know and love probably requires a little more than a cash settlement and an apology to rectify the robbery of innocence and hope that these victims have endured at the hands of these snakes.Catholics? A God fearing faith? What an insult.

As controversial as this particular issue is, I would imagine that anyone having an opinion, whether against or in favor of the Catholic Church, more than likely feels as strongly about their opinion as I feel about mine.Just so there are no misunderstandings, yes, I did state and do strongly believe that the Catholic Church is a sorry excuse for a so-called member of the Christian faith.Even stronger is my belief that these priests who used and abused their position in order to rob our you youth of their innocence and warp their understanding of a loving God, SHOULD AND WILL BURN IN HELL.Furthermore, the Catholic Church as a whole, is as guilty of these horrible crimes as the individual priests and will continue to be just that until someone takes a stand and ceases to tolerate such behavior. As of now all the church has done is cover up for their low-life, baby raping leaders. Many of the guilty parties involved continue in their positions of leadership in the church and the children, as if nothing ever happened.The entire situation makes me sick, as does the catholic church as a whole for their lack of affirmative action regarding this matter.

I received a letter from Archbishop Cardinal Levada’s office dated August 4, 2005, stating: “Thank you for your letter of July 25, 2005. Your letter arrived in the Archbishop’s office as he was making final preparations for his departure from San Francisco and permanent location to Rome. PLEASE BE ASSURED THAT YOUR LETTER WILL BE SENT TO THE CONGREGATION’S OFFICE IN ROME FOR THE ARCHBISHOP’S REVIEW AS HE TAKES UP HIS NEW DUTIES.”As of today, April 20, 2008, I continue to await a response–none has arrived. The letter identified pending child protection issues and failures of the Catholic Church to abide to federal Whistleblower laws when employees report sex crimes or other violations of the law to the violating state and federal child protection, mandated reporting and Whistleblower laws.I remain disillusioned and ashamed upon witnessing Archbishop Levada’s leadership and public statements almost 3 years after promising a response to a concerned Catholic–a response that is deserved in the interests of justice and the protections of children and those hwo protect them.Without justice, there will never be peace. Without peace, faith and our country’s laws are empty.

After reading some of the comments here on this Blog I find that Reuters do care about the opinion of other people because the Blogs of http://www.topix.com/ is full of Catholics Spy and Computer Hackers who deletes the comments of people who say that they were sexually abused or does not like Catholics Priests and Bishops bad behavior. In TOPIX Blogs you will never find comments like the Italian man call George Bateman and Kelly. So, good on you Reuters Blog for not deleting comments about the real truth so that any of the 60,000 American children who were sexually abused (FBI has 49,000 Priests on a Black List record) will not feel that the world hates them and that it was not their fault. There is not difference between a Priest and Nun who abuse children and the Catholic Spy who deletes the comments on http://www.topix.com/ so that people do not find out the real true that the Pope the leader of the Roman Catholic Church is a criminal worst than Saddam Hussein. I also agree that the Vatican City should burn (by using an ICBMs with ten nuclear warheads) and become like Ground zero so that it serves as a warning to any Religion that by using the Bible and the name of God they will not escape from been destroy soon or later.

Posted by Jack | Report as abusive

Changes in Canon Law I would believe are going to be forthcoming. Ratzinger loves to write!Meanwhile changes have been made in at least 80 of America’s 190 Catholic diocese. The changes were included in USCCB – “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People………………………Article 5………..Sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric is a crime in the universal law of the Church (CIC, c. 1395 §2; CCEO, c. 1453 §1). Because of the seriousness of this matter, jurisdiction has been reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Motu proprio, Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, AAS, 93, 2001). Sexual abuse of a minor is also a crime in all civil jurisdictions in the United States.Diocesan/eparchial policy is to provide that for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor*—whenever it occurred—which is admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon is to be permanently removed from ministry and, if warranted, dismissed from the clerical state. ……………….”Dated 2005.Also: Pastoral letter LA Diocesehttp://www.the-tidings.com/2007/0 72007/cmletter.htm”—There is no priest or lay person currently in ministry in the Archdiocese who has been found to have abused a young person. —Complaints of abuse are promptly reported to civil authorities. —A Clergy Misconduct Oversight Board receives complaints of inappropriate conduct and makes recommendations about the disposition of individual cases. —More than 40,000 priests, teachers, lay employees, coaches and volunteers have been trained in abuse prevention techniques under the Archdiocese’s Safeguard the Children program. —Before being allowed to work alone with children, church employees and volunteers are being fingerprinted and will clear a criminal background check. —More than 350,000 of our children and youth already have been trained in age-appropriate programs that teach them to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and how to report inappropriate behavior to a parent or guardian……………….”The LA program is rumored to be a possible model for national changes. These programs were referred to by Pope Benedict in his visit. In – “Address to the Bishops of the United StatesResponse to Questions Posed by the U.S. Bishops”The Pope stated that educational programs need to be “maintained and expanded” and “Clearly, the Church’s influence on public debate takes place on many different levels. In the United States, as elsewhere, there is much current and proposed legislation that gives cause for concern from the point of view of morality, and the Catholic community, under your guidance, needs to offer a clear and united witness on such matters.” So I would imagine if the bishops follow up appropriately with the Pope’s instructions we will soon be hearing more about what the church is doing.Victims groups may continually maintain that it is not enough, or too little too late. Here again the Pope tried to put the abuse scandal in context of an “overly sexualized American culture”. In fact we have had many other sexual abuse crimes go unanswered. Thousands of rape evidence kits still sit in urban police departments so long that the DNA is no longer viable. Thousands of rapes go unreported because victims know they probably will not see justice.The victims of clergy abuse that came forward have received settlements, counseling, numerous apologies from clergy, and now a true emphatic apology from the head of the church. The Bishop’s Counsel has written new policy. I know of no other American victim’s that have received as much attention, settlement, and action. We could coompare in fact with other vicitms sexually abused in public schools, or even violently raped that have no justice at all.I certainly hope the Vatican will approve some releases quickly as to just how much has been done. A sad shame is no matter what they do there will always be people out to bash the majority of innocent priests because of what less than 1% did long ago. Catholic bashing has not abated yet.Another facet to the scandals may be “steeple chasers”. Ever since the abuse scandals surfaced every religious organization has been subjected to these type of lawsuits from Baptist, Protestant, and even Rabbis. These attorneys are more than willing to take on a religious organization pro bono while other victims exist with no legal aid at all.Honestly ask yourselves – is it about justice?

Posted by subodot | Report as abusive

Most people of the American government tend to forget what the Founding Fathers of America wrote;“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”The American Government has allow for many years on their own watch the Catholic Priests, Nuns, and member of the Roman Catholic Church to sexually abuse over 60,000 American children in less than 50 years. The Roman Catholic Church is giving a bad name to the American country all over the world but America is so blind that they cannot understand why many countries hate America. The American government do not have the balls to stop associating themselves with the criminal organization of the Pope who use children as sex machines all over the world. The words of the American founding Fathers should be re-written in this 21st century to say:“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that the children of man are not created equal, also the children of man can be used as a sex machine to sexually satisfy the wet dreams of Catholic Priest and Nuns, the children do not have the right to life, liberty, and happiness”What a shame. American will go down into history as the Empire who collapsed because the American government choose to showed more respect to the criminal Pope the leader of the Catholics Priests and Nuns who abused over 60,000 American children. Because America allows the Catholics Priests and Catholics Nuns to use their American children as a sex machine the Catholics Priests and Nuns think that they have a license (permit) to sexually abuse the children of other countries without fear of being punish. What a shame, the American country are selling their own souls to the criminal organization known as the Roman Catholic Church and allows the Pope to walk free on the streets.

Posted by Jack | Report as abusive

I accept many of the points here. Cardinal Levada as presented in the Reuters interview above utterly fails the simplest “sniff” test of this devoted Catholic. Legal (secualr and canonical)action directed at bishops responsible for moving predatory priests to other parishes, where some continued their depredations, is necessary before God’s sunshine will penetrate this corruption and purify it. The Long Lent of this scandal will continue to plague the Church until her authority is fully exercised on Justice’s behalf in support of these dreadful outrages against injured minors. And further – Justice must not alone be done. It must be seen to be done.

Posted by Thomas Cahill | Report as abusive

Jack’s comment above: “the Pope the leader of the Roman Catholic Church is a criminal worst than Saddam Hussein. I also agree that the Vatican City should burn (by using an ICBMs with ten nuclear warheads) and become like Ground zero so that it serves as a warning to any Religion that by using the Bible and the name of God they will not escape from been destroy soon or later.” These exemplars of Jack’s hate-filled rants brings way too much heat and way too little light to this important conversation. It makes me ask what the moderator of this thread feels is unacceptable.

Posted by Thomas Cahill | Report as abusive

When a matter is as grave as the molestation of minors by a trusted representative of God it is important that everything brought up in our discussions be rigorously true insofar as the truth can be established. The truth will last the test of time. Some truths are unbearable but must be borne such that justice can be done. In that spirit note the following: Pedophilia is the sexual molestation of a child before they have reached puberty. Cruelty itself. Ephebophilia, no less cruel and disgusting, is applied to minors after puberty. The very great majority (95+% from best independent studies) of the cases wherein Catholic priests were found guilty or plausibly accused of molestation was the homosexual rape of teenagers. The media will not state this although it is hard to see how they could miss it. I surmise this is because of the fear of a backlash from their homosexual readers and their allies. So we blindly echo their term “pedophelia” when “homosexual rape of a minor” is a much more accurate description of the statistical and historical reality.The Catholic Church is despised by the homosexual movement because of Rome’s forthright but thoughtful and nuanced stand against the practice of homosexuality.Nothing is excused by my comments here in respect of the RC priests’ molestation and the RC Bishops enabling or facilitating the molestation of children.

Posted by Thomas Cahill | Report as abusive

To Thomas Cahill, thanks for several interesting comments. I agree with you that Jack’s comment equating the pope and Saddam Hussein is over the top. We do moderate comments but we try to do it as lightly as possible, weeding out spam, pornographic comments and libelous ad hominem attacks. The pope is a public figure and as such fair game for strong commentary, even if I do not agree with it. We usually have a more informed debate here and I was struck by how emotional some of the responses were.As for pedophilia, ephebophilia and homosexuality, I think you’re reading too much into this to say we are afraid of a backlash from homosexual readers and their allies. I neither know nor care how many readers are homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, metrosexual or asexual. That’s not the point. And I, like you, know the difference between pedophilia and ephebophilia and agree the latter is the more precise term. But pedophilia is the term that has come to be associated with this scandal. When speaking about this issue, that is the word all but a tiny minority of readers will use. It’s like the term “heartburn.” It has nothing to do with the heart, as doctors I know insist, but that’s the word people use. This is what’s behind our use of the term, not anything else.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

I am an Alaska Native (Yup’ik) from Nelson Island and I was ordained into deaconate on November 23, 1985. I serve as one of the two deacons in my community. My wife and I are blessed with 5 children and 4 adopted. We are also blessed with 27 grandchildren and 2 great grand sons.Although I was not near the Holy Father on his recent journey to United States, I am touched, and yet ashamed, of the past priests who have abused our brothers and sisters in faith. It may well happen again and the only solution that I can think of is the question of celebacy. If the Catholic Church could allow married priests, it would hopefully improve the situation we are facing.Many of us would also be Native Priests in Alaska where shortage of priest is very much experienced. Right now, we have only five priests that serves what we call Yukon/Kuskokwim Delta as visiting priests. Thank you.

Posted by Rev. Mr. James Charlie | Report as abusive

The squalls of accumulating scandal besetting the roman catholic church will look like a mere trifle compared to the storm that is shortly coming. For these growing, worldwide sexual scandals are only setting the stage for the ‘churches’ worst nightmare: the questioning of it’s very origins! And that has already begun on the web. Not by any atheist ravings, but with first wholly new interpretation for 2000 years of the Gospel/moral teachings of Christ. Redefining all primary elements including Faith, the Word, Law, Baptism, the Trinity and the Resurrection. This is not reformation but revolution. We may very well come to ‘remember’ the church as two thousands years of hubris, intellectual, theological self deception and a counterfeit copy of revealed truth. http://www.energon.org.uk  This ‘storm’ will look like a mere trifle compared to what is shortly coming. For this growing sexual scandal is only setting the stage for the ‘churches’ worst nightmare. The questioning of it’s very origins and that has already begun on the web. Not by any atheist ravings, but with first wholly new interpretation for 2000 years of the Gospel/moral teachings of Christ. Redefining all primary elements including Faith, the Word, Law, Baptism, the Trinity  and the Resurrection. This is not reformation but revolution. We may very well come to ‘remember’ the church as two thousands years of hubris, intellectual, theological self deception and a counterfeit copy of revealed truth! http://www.energon.org.uk  This ‘storm’ will look like a mere trifle compared to what is shortly coming. For this growing sexual scandal is only setting the stage for the ‘churches’ worst nightmare. The questioning of it’s very origins and that has already begun on the web. Not by any atheist ravings, but with first wholly new interpretation for 2000 years of the Gospel/moral teachings of Christ. Redefining all primary elements including Faith, the Word, Law, Baptism, the Trinity  and the Resurrection. This is not reformation but revolution. We may very well come to ‘remember’ the church as two thousands years of hubris, intellectual, theological self deception and a counterfeit copy of revealed truth! http://www.energon.org.uk  

Posted by klatu | Report as abusive