John Lilburne's journal about the role of priests and laity in the Catholic Church. It refers to the issue of sexual abuse by priests and the lay ministry of instituted lector.



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1030 L Tue 15 Jan 2002

I am very impressed by an article by Archbishop Chaput, which includes a quote from Pope Paul VI, if we "want peace, (we should) work for justice."

This morning I read an article about priests in Boston. It referred to comments by Cardinal Law, so I read his statement as well.

I am struggling with the following sentence in it:

"Any priest known to have sexually abused a minor simply will not function as a priest in any way in this Archdiocese."

I don't think this can be delivered. Known by whom? The priest and victim know about it immediately, but this will not stop him functioning as a priest. Allegations can be made, but these need to be assessed before the priest is dismissed from the clerical state. Even with the best people, the best policy, the best investigations and the best tribunals there will be mistakes. According to Canon 1395, a cleric who has sex "with a minor under the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants." I have not heard of this being made a compulsory punishment by the Pope's recent changes to Canon Law on this.

Another difficult sentence from Cardinal Law:

"One of the sad consequences of these instances of abuse, a consequence which pales in comparison to the harm done to these most innocent of victims, is that they have placed under a cloud of suspicion the faithful priests who serve the mission of the Church with integrity."

I agree that a consequence of abuse by clergy is a suspicion of clergy. But I do not see this suspicion as a harm "which pales is comparison to the harm done to these most innocent of victims". I can understand clergy being saddened by the increased suspicion and diminished trust with which they are viewed. But it seems to me that there are benefits in having a better understanding of the truth.

The truth is that priests are sinful like other people. They need rules to keep them in line. Checks need to be made about whether they are observing the rules. They need to be punished when they do not. To avoid punishment they will seek to get around the rules and there will be struggles to assert them.

It seems to me that Vatican II and the liturgical reforms were largely about diminishing the power of priests compared to the laity. For example from this instruction in the current Roman Missal, published in 1975:

82. Once the congregation has gathered, the priest and the ministers, clad in their vestments, go to the altar in this order:

a) a server with a lighted censer, if incense is used;

b) the servers, who, according to the occasion, carry lighted candles, and between them the cross-bearer, if the cross is to be carried;

c) acolytes and other ministers;

d) a reader, who may carry the Book of the Gospels;

e) the priest who is to celebrate the Mass.

The priest is made one minister among several in the procession, wearing vestments and seated in the sanctuary. A lot of bishops and priests seem to have refused to obey this instruction. My own observations are in Australia, but it also seems to be the case in other English speaking countries and I suspect throughout the world.

Efforts are made to change the liturgical reforms. In 1981 the General Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass, n. 54, says that vestments are only compulsory for a reader who is an instituted lector. The 2000 edition of the General Instruction to the Roman Missal continued with instituted lectors and acolytes. According to page 4 the Pope approved it on 11 January 2000, but more than two years later the Third Edition of the Roman Missal has not been published.

To an extent priests are prepared to accept ministers they can pick and choose, hire and fire. But having lay people with permanent ministries, such as instituted lectors and instituted acolytes, they seem to resist in every possible way.

So when Cardinal Law speaks of "the faithful priests" I find myself thinking about the question Jesus asked: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth" (Luke 18:8). Who are the priests faithful to? Naturally there is a loyalty to each other. But it seems ridiculous to be claiming to be faithful to the Church but not following the Church's liturgical laws and Canon laws.

The movie JFK begins with a quote something like: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to keep silent." I am sure this has lead to lots of people expounding silly conspiracy theories. But on this issue more people in the Catholic Church should to be speaking out.

Update 1100 L Wed 30 Jan 2002

I have added a link to Cardinal Law's new statement of 29 January. I am pleased to see things like:

... In a profound manner, although it pales in comparison to what has been endured by victims and their families, all of the faithful have suffered. ...

... I wish to underscore, once again, my commitment to do all in my power to implement and ensure a policy of zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of children by priests or any agents of the Archdiocese. ...

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 15 January 2002. Last updated 30 January 2002

Links to other sites:

Archbishop Chaput on peace

Boston newspaper article

Cardinal Law's statement

Update 30 Jan 2002:

Cardinal Law's 29 January 2002 Statement