Should the Charter change?

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the U.S. bishops’ guidelines for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, is due for review in November and priests from across the country are recommending modifications, says Father Richard Vega, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils. The NFPC sent the following concerns to the bishops prior to the review:


Executive Summary of the National Federation of Priests Councils Survey of Presbyteral Councils Regarding the Charter and Norms


In an attempt to assist and support the bishops in revisiting the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms, the NFPC mounted a survey of presbyteral councils across the United States. Our sole purpose was to gather information that the bishops would find useful in their deliberations.


We sent out 122 surveys, first to the ordinaries, and then a week later to the chairs of presbyteral councils. We have received 35 completed surveys — a 28% return. We know of only one bishop who directed that his council not participate.


We asked about everything from institutional aspects (for example, the effectiveness of the office of the diocesan promoter of justice) to the spiritual care of both victims of abuse and the abusive priests.


Collating the responses, we have identified eight areas of concern, issues that the bishops may wish to address. We offer them now to the bishops in a spirit of collaboration.


1. There appears to be a lack of clarity among the councils regarding local resources, the communication of policy, particularly among international priests.


2. The local promoter of justice is generally not known among the local presbyterate.


3. The process from accusation to resolution varies from diocese to diocese — especially when it comes to the amount of time it takes to make a decision to remove a priest, and how that decision is communicated to the presbyterate.


4. The councils report concern about accused priests who are removed from ministry but then have no legal action taken. They remain in a kind of limbo, which affects morale of the whole presbyterate.


5. The councils report a widespread need for a pastoral plan for the care of incarcerated priests. We realize that this is a highly sensitive issue, and the appearance must never be given that we care “more” for the perpetrator than the victims. 


6. Inconsistencies abound regarding the protocols surrounding the house of prayer and penance. There is a concern that the penalties imposed of residents may be worse than civil society places on released convicts. And the question arises: Are civil liberties being respected? (Examples: use of Internet, leaving the house.)


7. The councils report concern about whether due process is being followed in the increase of laicization cases. Should “automatic laicization” procedures be invoked against those against whom no civil action was taken?


8. The councils report anxiety over funeral issues, and a lack of consistency between dioceses concerning: 


• whether or not an accused priest can celebrate the funeral of a relative.


• the funeral rites of both accused and convicted priests.

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