BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Spanish Portuguese Caribbean
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Americas  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Saturday, 15 June, 2002, 00:04 GMT 01:04 UK
Analysis: Vatican calls the shots
Unidentified bishop holds up a ballot during conference
Zero tolerance is unlikely to be endorsed by the Vatican

The policy of zero tolerance of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests advocated by American bishops meeting in Dallas, Texas, is unlikely to be endorsed by the Vatican.


The Church is not a democracy which decides on matters of morals by majority vote

Firstly, Rome - as always - remains extremely cautious in deciding policies to be followed by the whole Catholic Church.

The Vatican likes to take its time, even in matters of such gravity as the serious crisis of credibility which has arisen inside the Catholic Church in America as a result of the clergy sex abuse scandals and the cover-up provided by some bishops.

Secondly, as Catholic theologians are fond of pointing out, the Church is not a democracy which decides on matters of morals by majority vote.

Many Americans assume too readily that their way of subjecting issues to reasoned discussion, and then voting on a course of action, is also acceptable to the Pope and the Roman Curia, the small group of cardinals who run the central administration of the Church in Rome.

This is simply not true.

Under pressure

The role of national bishops' conferences in deciding Church policies is purely advisory; they have no binding authority and all their decisions have to be submitted for approval by the Vatican.

Many Catholics are calling for a more important role for bishops' conferences in the governance of the Catholic Church, as proposed during the second Vatican Council in the 1960s, but this has not yet happened.

Pope Jean Paul
The Vatican is cautious in deciding policies affecting the whole Church

Vatican officials feel American bishops are under extreme pressure from their flocks and also from the media to be seen to be reacting to sexual abuse victims' groups.

High-ranking Vatican officials, speaking off the record, point out that the interests of the Church may be better served in seeking reconciliation than in driving out paedophile priests.

There have also been cases in which accusations have been made and later retracted.

The Vatican does not see eye to eye with bishops who advocate defrocking all priests guilty of sexually molesting minors, even when there has been only a single incident dating back 20 or 30 years.

Last word

This was made clear to the American cardinals when they were recently summoned to Rome for talks about the scandal.

A leading Italian Canon lawyer at the Gregorian Papal University in Rome, Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, writing in the influential Jesuit-run Italian magazine La Civilta Cattolica (Catholic Civilisation) has argued in a recent article that the rights of the alleged victim must also be balanced against those of the accused cleric.

Fr Ghirlanda's point is that American bishops who have been releasing confidential information to the media or to the police about the priests in their dioceses may be in breach of canon law, the ecclesiastical code of conduct governing relations between clergy and laity.

The bottom line is that all the 300 or so American bishops attending the Dallas meeting are ultimately answerable to Rome, not to their bishops' conference, so the Vatican will, as always, have the last word on the sexual abuse crisis.

The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

Boston cardinal quits

Around the world

Profiles

Viewpoint

TALKING POINT
See also:

14 Jun 02 | Americas
12 Jun 02 | Americas
23 Apr 02 | Europe
22 Apr 02 | Europe
Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes