U.S. Bishops conference: child sexual abuse by priests

ORLANDO, June 13, 2008 (vaticans.org) -- Opening their spring general meeting in Orlando, members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops got an interim report on the causes and context of child sexual abuse by priests and made quick work of proposals to revisit the ethical guidelines on feeding tubes and to declare a National Catholic Charities Sunday in 2010.

In the first morning session of the June 12-14 assembly at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, the bishops also took a preliminary look at two documents they will vote on later in the meeting. The first was a 700-page draft translation of the proper prayers in the Roman Missal for each Sunday and feast day during the liturgical year.

The other was a seven-page policy statement from the Committee on Pro-Life Activities that calls embryonic stem-cell research "a gravely immoral act" that crosses a "fundamental moral line" by treating human beings as mere objects of research.

Both documents were scheduled for further debate and vote June 13.

Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, N.J., chairman of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship, said the liturgical document under consideration was the second of 12 sections of the Roman Missal translation project that will come before the bishops through at least 2010.

Each draft section first goes through a consultative process in all English-speaking countries and a final draft is proposed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, made up of representatives of bishops' conferences throughout the English-speaking world.

Because of that process, Bishop Serratelli said his committee had accepted only "a limited number of amendments considered absolutely necessary." Nearly 100 amendments proposed by a half-dozen bishops were rejected by the committee, although some might be brought before the full body of bishops before a vote.

The stem-cell document was introduced by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., in the absence of Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chairman of the pro-life committee.

Saying that the church has been "one of the most effective voices in the national debate on the use of embryos in stem-cell research," Archbishop Naumann said the new document would be the first by the bishops "devoted exclusively to this issue."

He said the stem-cell document will serve as a complement to a "somewhat longer, more pastoral document," aimed primarily at Catholic couples, on the church's teachings on reproductive technologies. The bishops decided not to consider both topics in one document because they face "distinct educational challenges," he added.

In an interim report on a study of the causes and context of sex abuse of minors by priests, researcher Karen Terry said she and her colleagues at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York have found some correlations between the frequency of child sex abuse by priests and the increase or decline in societal patterns of divorce, premarital sex and illegal drug use.

In the 1960s, for example, studies show there was a 200 percent increase in incidents of abuse by priests, as well as a 200 percent increase in the number of divorces and the number of new adult users of marijuana and a 70 percent increase in premarital sexual activity among 20-year-old women.

In the 1980s, when incidents of abuse by priests declined by 72 percent, the divorce rate was down 40 percent and there was a 60 percent decrease in premarital sexual activity and new marijuana users, Terry said.

A similar pattern also is seen in the number of resignations from the priesthood during each decade and the number of incidents of sex abuse by priests in each of those decades, she said.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the various phenomena are "shaped by the same social factors," Terry said.

The causes and context study, commissioned by the bishops' National Review Board, is expected to be completed by December 2010, said Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.

In voting on the first day, the bishops gave permission for their Committee on Doctrine to begin revising the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" to reflect recent church documents on medically assisted nutrition and hydration.

The documents include a 2004 address by Pope John Paul II to an international congress on the vegetative state and a 2007 response by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on questions raised by the USCCB on artificial nutrition and hydration.

The "modest revision" would later be brought to the full body of bishops for a vote, although Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., doctrine committee chairman, said he did not know whether the changes would be ready for a vote this November.

Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk of Cincinnati urged as wide a consultation as possible before the proposal comes to the bishops.

"We do not want to seem like we're handing this down from on high to the Catholic health care world," he said. "We need to get as much input as we can get."

The bishops also approved by voice vote a proposal to designate Sept. 26, 2010, as National Catholic Charities Sunday to mark the 100th anniversary of the network of Catholic social service agencies nationwide.

In written ballots they accepted a recommendation from the Committee on Budget and Finance to keep the 2009 assessment on dioceses to fund the work of the USCCB at the 2008 level of just over $10 million and a proposal by the Committee on Divine Worship to replace the Spanish word "vosotros" with "ustedes" in Spanish-language Masses in the U.S. to reflect the usage more common in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The diocesan assessment level was OK'd by a 140-0 vote, while the liturgical proposal was approved 187-3


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