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POPE-CARDINALS (UPDATED) Nov-19-2010 (1,170 words) With photos. xxxi

Cardinal Levada says Vatican preparing new guidelines to fight abuse

Cardinals at today's meeting. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican is preparing a document for all bishops' conferences offering guidelines for a "coordinated and effective program" of child protection and for dealing with allegations of clerical sexual abuse, said Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

During the evening session of a meeting Nov. 19 with Pope Benedict XVI and about 150 prelates -- members of the College of Cardinals and the 24 churchmen who were scheduled to receive their red hats Nov. 20 -- the cardinal spoke about the church's efforts to deal with the abuse crisis.

The cardinal "made some observations about the greater responsibility of bishops for safeguarding the faithful entrusted to them," said a Vatican statement issued after the meeting.

The statement said bishops should be "inspired by the words" of Pope Benedict and the way he has listened to victims of sexual abuse during his meetings with them.

Cardinal Levada also spoke about "collaboration with civil authorities and the need for an effective commitment to protecting children and young people and for an attentive selection and formation of future priests and religious," the statement said.

While the cardinals were meeting at the Vatican, a small group of clerical sex abuse victims met with reporters in Rome and called on the church to take further action, including releasing the names of all accused priests around the world.

The cardinals' day of prayer and reflection was held behind closed doors, although reporters were allowed inside for the opening prayer.

One participant said that in the discussion following Cardinal Levada's presentation, several cardinals made the point that clerical sex abuse is a problem not only in the United States and Western Europe, and that all bishops' conferences must have policies in place to deal with accusations and detect potential abusers before they are ordained.

A Vatican official told Catholic News Service that the doctrinal congregation's circular letter to bishops' conferences around the world would encourage reporting every accusation to civil authorities but would not mandate reporting because in some countries an accused priest could be killed without a trial.

The Vatican statement said that in the discussion at the end of the meeting, bishops' conferences were encouraged to develop "effective, quick, articulated, complete and decisive plans for the protection of children" and that those plans should look toward bringing perpetrators to justice and assisting victims, "including in countries where the problem has not manifested itself in as dramatic a way as in others."

The day of reflection began with prayer and with Pope Benedict introducing the first two themes for discussion: religious freedom and the importance of the liturgy.

"He recalled that in the Lord's mandate to proclaim the Gospel, the need for freedom to do so is implicit, and yet in history this encounters various forms of opposition," said a statement issued by the Vatican press office.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the day was "not an occasion for decision-making or votes, but for prayer and reflection, sharing useful information and listening to the cardinals' opinions."

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, gave the presentation on religious freedom and the challenge of new limits being placed on the exercise of faith in the modern world.

While he looked at the situation in Asia and in countries with a Muslim majority, the cardinal began with the situation in the West, the Vatican said.

"These are nations that often owe to Christianity the deepest aspects of their identity and culture, but one notes today a process of secularization with attempts to marginalize spiritual values from social life," the Vatican statement said.

One cardinal participating in the meeting said that during the discussion period, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago was one of the prelates who spoke about how secularism is reducing religious freedom in his country.

Another participant, Cardinal-designate Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, told reporters that while the illicit ordination of bishops in China was mentioned during the discussion on religious freedom, it was not a major focus.

He said a significant point was "the concern for the erosion of religious liberty in our own country, the encroachment on the free expression of freedom of conscience in our own institutions. Actually, I was surprised that there were so many who spoke to that."

Regarding the United States, he said there is a growing concern that "religious freedom seems to be being interpreted as freedom to worship in your house of worship, as opposed to the free exercise of religious opinion and the freedom of conscience, particularly for our institutions."

He said Catholic institutions increasingly face government regulations that make them choose between violating Catholic teaching or closing down.

The cardinal-designate did not mention specifics, but, for example, Catholic agencies in at least two cities and states have had to stop offering adoption services when local governments insisted that same-sex couples be allowed to adopt.

Cardinal-designate Wuerl said he was not among the 18 cardinals who had an opportunity to address the morning session, adding, "Remember, I don't have seniority."

The Vatican said 12 cardinals spoke during the evening discussion period, and many of them returned to the theme of how religious freedom is being threatened the in West.

Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, gave the morning's second presentation, looking at liturgy in the life of the church.

In his introductory remarks, Pope Benedict told the cardinals that the liturgy is essential to the church's life "because it is the place of God's presence with us; therefore, it is the place in which the truth lives with us," the Vatican statement said.

The morning session ended at 1 p.m. when Pope Benedict joined all the cardinals and cardinals-designate for lunch in the atrium of the Paul VI audience hall.

Besides Cardinal Levada's presentation on the clerical sex abuse scandal, the evening topics included the 10th anniversary of "Dominus Iesus," a document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirming church teaching that salvation comes only through Jesus; and the implementation of Pope Benedict's norms for welcoming Anglicans into full communion with the Catholic Church.

The bishops of England and Wales announced Nov. 19 that the first personal ordinariate for former Anglicans, a structure similar to a military archdiocese, would be established in England in early January.

The day before the cardinals' meeting and the English bishops' announcement, Pope Benedict met privately with Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Archbishop Williams told Vatican Radio he had spoken with the five Anglican bishops scheduled to join the ordinariate and he wished them well. He said he did not see the establishment of the ordinariate "as an aggressive act, meant to destabilize the relations of the churches," but he said, "I remain skeptical about some of the bigger claims that are made" about the procedure contributing to Christian unity by bringing small groups of Anglicans into communion with the Catholic Church.


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