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BISHOPS-AGENDA May-5-2005 (1,120 words) xxxn

Revised clergy sex abuse norms are one item on bishops' June agenda

By Jerry Filteau

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will face revisions in its "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and the accompanying "Essential Norms" when the bishops meet this June in Chicago.

They will also be asked to approve spending up to $1 million from USCCB reserves to fund an in-depth study of the causes and context behind the decades of clergy sex abuse of minors that exploded into a national church crisis in 2002.

Although those items are likely to draw the most media attention, the bishops have a number of other decisions to deal with at the June 16-18 meeting. These include:

-- Adoption of a pastoral letter on world mission.

-- A revision of the U.S. Program of Priestly Formation.

-- Continuing several current U.S. adaptations of the Roman Missal.

-- A statement of renewed commitment to Catholic elementary and secondary schools.

-- Possible establishment of an annual day of prayer for vocations.

The USCCB Department of Communications said May 3 that only two of the bishops' meeting sessions, the mornings of June 16 and 17, will be open to the media. The afternoon sessions those days and the final morning session will be restricted to the bishops and essential staff.

One of the closed sessions will be devoted to a half-day of prayer and discussion on the theme of evangelization and catechesis.

The original child protection charter and the related "Essential Norms," the Vatican-approved special legislation for handling accusations of clerical sexual abuse, were adopted by the bishops in 2002.

The norms were approved only for a two-year period on the assumption that experience in implementation would show where they should be refined. That period was recently extended until the bishops can consider the revisions, which were developed in consultation with the Vatican.

In the proposed new version the definition of clerical sexual abuse of a minor has been simplified to reflect more directly and clearly what it means as a canonical crime. The initial presumption of innocence for the accused is made explicit.

The language about religious priests who have abused minors, which was a source of concern in the original, was revised to make explicit reference to the canonical rights and obligations of religious communities in regard to their internal life. As in the original, bishops have full authority to prohibit any public ministry by any religious who has sexually abused a minor.

In the charter, revisions are far more extensive, but the substantive thrust remains the same. Throughout, future verbs are changed to the present tense -- for example, "will have" becomes "is to have" -- reflecting the fact that these are no longer a set of promises to fulfill, but actions and policies that are, or ought to be, in place already across the nation.

One proposed charter change would raise the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse to a permanent committee, renaming it the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

In the charter the bishops committed themselves to two major studies, one on the nature and extent of clergy sexual abuse of minors and the other on its causes and context. The first study has been completed and groundwork has been laid for the second, the total cost of which is estimated to range from $2 million to $5 million.

To spur grants from other sources the bishops are being asked to demonstrate their own commitment to the study by agreeing to pay up to $1 million of its cost from a $20 million fund referred to as the USCCB Quasi-Endowment Fund.

The proposed 10-page letter on world mission aims at reviving mission awareness, interest and activity among U.S. Catholics. It is titled "Teaching the Spirit of Mission 'Ad Gentes': Continuing Pentecost Today." "Ad gentes" is Latin for "to the nations."

If the bishops adopt the revised Program of Priestly Formation, several years in the making, it will be the fifth edition. It will replace the version adopted by the bishops and approved by the Vatican in 1992.

Its norms for priestly formation in the United States are largely the same as in 1992, but the commentary has been refashioned to reflect Pope John Paul II's 1992 apostolic exhortation on priestly vocations and formation more fully and additional papal teaching since then.

Among other things, the new document has more extensive treatments of admissions criteria and of celibacy formation. It includes for the first time an explicit warning, "Any credible evidence in the candidate of a sexual attraction to children necessitates an immediate dismissal from the seminary."

The statement in support of Catholic schools says that since the bishops last issued a formal statement on that topic in 1990, many urban, inner-city and rural Catholic schools have been forced to close, while new schools opening in suburban areas can't keep pace with demand and often have waiting lists.

The statement addresses what Catholic schools are doing now and what challenges await them in coming years. It notes that 48 percent of all U.S. students in private schools are enrolled in Catholic schools.

A proposal to continue six U.S. adaptations in the Mass says that these adaptations, in force since 1970, are well-known to priests and people, have helped shaped their liturgical formation and spirituality and would cause "great consternation" if they were to be abandoned now.

Among the adaptations is the use of the eucharistic acclamation, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" -- a text not contained in the Roman Missal. Also included are alternative formulas introducing the penitential rite and the Our Father and alternative forms of dismissal at the end of Mass.

The issue arises because the bishops are preparing to consider revisions in the U.S. missal texts in light of recent revisions of the Roman Missal, which is the basis for Mass texts and norms throughout the Latin church.

The proposal for a national day of prayer for vocations asks two questions: Do the bishops want such a day? If so, would they prefer that each diocese determine what day that is, or would they like a specific date nationally, such as the feast of St. Andrew or of St. John Vianney?

The bishops will be asked to authorize preparation of a statement on the use of the death penalty. The statement would then be submitted to them for discussion and a vote at their November meeting.

Also on the agenda are some internal USCCB issues, including a proposal to increase the 2006 diocesan assessment for USCCB funding by 4 percent. The proposed increase would cover about one-fifth of an estimated $2.45 million shortfall in the projected 2006 budget.


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