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Priests, Sexual Abuse and Canon Law

January 26, 2002

Re "Facing Sin in the Ranks," editorial, Jan. 21:

I'd like to suggest that when an institution (in this case, the Vatican) makes unnatural demands on a human being, there will be "sins." The man-made stringent rules of celibacy are bound to bring about abuses. The Catholic Church has not handled this well in the past, posting priests to yet another parish so these acts can be continued, thus carrying the process on and on with youngsters. The church must come to grips with this untenable situation.

Reform is overdue in many ways. The one you mentioned in the editorial is but one; women as priests is another, and birth control yet another. The best solution, of course, would be to abolish celibacy altogether. By doing that, they wouldn't have to deal with secrets as they do now: confession, writing the new policies in Latin and quietly publishing in the Holy See's official gazette. Suspicions would be curbed.

If a crime is committed, there should be an obligation to report it to civil authorities, even if revealed in confession. Of course, the rights of the accused must be protected, but the rights of the victims, our children, are more important than any confession. Who else gets handled with kid gloves after a confession? This is the 21st century!

Maurine Reedy Ruzek

Los Angeles

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The Times is not seeing the entire picture when it implies criticism of the motu proprio (at his own initiative) letter of Pope John Paul II regarding norms of discipline of clergy involved with abuse. The letter does not deal with sexual abuse only. It also deals with sacramental, interdenominational and confidential abuse as well.

The purpose of the procedure is to protect those accused (and the accusers) from being denied due canonical process within the church. In cases of sexual abuse the church has either relied on or has been strongly influenced by local civil procedures for many of its decisions. While all local diocesan reforms in this area have always put the victims first in their concerns, some priests have been defrocked without a canonical process or put on administrative leave (something unknown in canon law) during the litigation proceedings.

The purpose is not to protect guilty priests but innocent ones who are victims of a media onslaught. Ironically, while this new procedure protects the innocent, it also works the other way around. A priest who is guilty of sexual abuse but has been found innocent in a civil court by a technicality or default can face canonical penalties under this system.

In no way will the new canonical rules hinder the civil justice procedure; rather, one would enhance the other.

The Rev. Vivian Ben Lima

Pontifical North American College, Rome

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