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Authors Call New Vatican Norms for Abuse Cases Important Step

by Staff
July 22, 2010
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HUNTINGTON, Indiana, ( -- Newly released revisions to Catholic Church law will streamline the handling of clergy sex abuse cases, and underscore Pope Benedict XVI's resolve to institute necessary reforms, according to authors of a recent book on the Church abuse crisis.

The revisions codify recent Church practice regarding extensions on the statute of limitations and confirm the right of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation to ask the pope to laicize an abusive priest without a Church trial, in the most serious and clear cases, and remove accused priests quickly from active ministry.

The Vatican also took several additional steps, including codifying the use of child pornography as a type of sexual abuse of minors; establishing parity between abuse of mentally disabled people and that of minors; and confirming the doctrinal congregation's competency to judge cardinals, patriarchs and bishops accused of "more grave crimes."

Gregory Erlandson and Matthew Bunson, co-authors of Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis: Working for Reform and Renewal (Our Sunday Visitor, 2010,, applauded the Vatican's actions as further evidence of the pope's commitment to address definitively the clergy sexual abuse crisis that has dominated much of his papacy.

"The revised norms - which reflect the hard-won experience of the American Church in addressing this crisis - are now universal and will apply to all dioceses worldwide," Erlandson and Bunson said. "The pope in his words and actions, has made it clear the Church will continue to address this issue forthrightly, learning from its past mistakes and making it much easier for Church leaders to quickly remove offending priests from ministry permanently."

Some of the new norms simply codify what has become standard practice, for example - extending the statute of limitations from 10 to 20 years after a victim's 18th birthday. Other changes, such as mandating the authority of the doctrinal congregation to judge cases involving the highest leaders in the Church, are new.

"In approving this change," said Erlandson and Bunson, "the pope is making clear that no one is above the law and that no situation of abuse will be tolerated, no matter who the accused is."

Pope Benedict ordered the investigation of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the religious order known as the Legionaries of Christ, and ordered Father Maciel into a "reserved life of penance and prayer" before his death in 2008, He has also accepted the resignations of several bishops, either because of allegations of abuse or because of allegations of covering up sexual abuse cases in their dioceses.

In their book on the pope and the abuse crisis, Erlandson and Bunson trace the history of the sexual abuse crisis and the involvement of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in addressing it both before and after he became pope. Erlandson and Bunson argue that the pope has been forthright in addressing the issue in words and deeds, and that he is determined to institute the reforms necessary to prevent such a crisis in the future.

Gregory Erlandson is president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor. Dr. Matthew Bunson is editor of The Catholic Almanac and is editor of the bimonthly magazine The Catholic Answer, both published by Our Sunday Visitor.

Our Sunday Visitor serves millions of Catholics worldwide through its publishing, offertory, and communication services. Established in 1912 by a local parish priest, Our Sunday Visitor has grown into the nation's largest supplier of offering envelopes, parish and diocesan mailings, books, periodicals, curriculum, address management, and stewardship services. Our Sunday Visitor is a not-for-profit organization, returning a portion of net earnings back to the Catholic community through the Our Sunday Visitor Institute. For more information, visit

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