Revised 'Essential Norms' Build on Actions Taken in Dallas

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
November 4, 2002

Washington -- The work of the Mixed Commission which met in Rome October 28-29 to revise the "Essential Norms" for diocesan policies in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, adopted by the Catholic Bishops of the United States last June, "substantially confirms the decisions made" at that time, according to Belleville Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

These norms were originally adopted, together with the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," at the bishops" semi-annual meeting in June and sent to the Holy See for its recognitio (approval).

In a statement released last Friday, Bishop Gregory said, "Contrary to many news reports, the Holy See did not reject or even "soften" this work. In fact, it is the foundation for what will become particular law in the United States if the revised norms are approved by the USCCB and receive the Holy See's recognitio."

"Particular law" refers to church law that is applicable in one country or region. In this case it will apply to all the dioceses and eparchies (dioceses of the Eastern Catholic Church) of the United States.

"This law will be complementary to the universal law of the Church, which itself treats the matter of sexual abuse of minors with the utmost gravity," Bishop Gregory said.

"This particular law will provide every diocese in the country with standards in canon law for protecting children and young people, reaching out to victims, assessing allegations against clergy, with the benefit of the advice of competent lay persons, and for keeping from ministry anyone who would harm children," he added.

The "particular law for all the dioceses/eparchies of the United States of America" called for in revised norms, # 1 includes the following:

"When even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants. (c.1395, 2)" (revised norms, # 8, opening).

This is comparable to the opening of original norm # 9.

Also consistent with the original norms, the revised norms contain the following requirements for dioceses and eparchies:

  • They will have a written policy on the sexual abuse of minors by priests, deacons, or other church personnel which is to be on file with the USCCB (revised norms, # 2).

  • They will designate "a competent person to coordinate assistance for the immediate pastoral care of persons who claim to have been sexually abused when they were minors by priests or deacons" (revised norms, # 3).

  • "To assist diocesan/eparchial bishops," they will have a review board which will function as a "confidential consultative body" to the bishop/eparch in discharging his responsibilities (revised norms, #4, opening).

  • They will "comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and will cooperate in the investigation. In every instance, the diocese/eparchy will advise and support a person"s right to make a report to public authorities" (revised norms, # 11).

An added norm (revised norms, # 9) clarifies the executive power of governance of the diocesan bishop which makes available to him a number of different provisions to remove a priest or deacon whom he deems unsuitable from public ministry.

It states, in part, "Because sexual abuse of a minor is a crime in all jurisdictions in the United States, for the sake of the common good and observing the provisions of canon law, the diocesan bishop/eparch shall exercise this power of governance to ensure that any priest who has committed even one act of sexual abuse of a minor as described above shall not continue in active ministry."

Other revisions proposed by the Mixed Commission include:

  • The addition to the preamble of the norms of a modified version of the definition of sexual abuse that appears in the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

Because there were many comments that the Dallas definition was too vague and thus open to misinterpretation, the Mixed Commission is proposing a revised definition that takes the central elements from the previous definition and relates them to "external, objectively grave violation[s] of the sixth Commandment."

An accompanying footnote indicates that the writings of recognized moral theologians are to be consulted and the opinions of recognized experts obtained, if there is any doubt whether such a violation has occurred.

"Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the diocesan bishop/eparch, with the advice of a qualified review board, to determine the gravity of the alleged act," the footnote concludes.

  • Clarification of the role of the diocesan review board. The original norms stated that its role is advisory to the bishop/eparch. The revised norms have clarified and strengthened this point. The Mixed Commission also agreed that the diocesan review board would be composed of at least five members "in full communion with the Church."

    This would not preclude the appointment also of a qualified non-Catholic.

  • A recommendation that the diocesan "promoter of justice" should "participate in meetings of the diocesan review board."

Canon 1430 states that "a promoter of justice is to appointed in a diocese for contentious cases which can endanger the public good and for penal cases; the promoter of justice is bound by office to provide for the public good."

  • Elaboration of the procedures to be followed when dealing with an allegation of sexual abuse, so that canon law and due process might be more fully respected.

    Specifically, emphasis has been placed on the distinction between the preliminary investigation (Canons 1717-1719) and the actual development of the penal process (Canons 1720-1728) (revised norms, # 6-8).

The work of the mixed commission clarified several other matters.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is to be notified when the preliminary investigation provides sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred, as required by the 2001 papal document "called a motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela." Except for cases with special circumstances, the diocesan bishop will normally be told to proceed. [Note from See Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela.]

As to prescription, or the statute of limitations, the revised norms state that the diocesan bishop, indicating appropriate pastoral reasons, can ask for a "derogation"or exception to the statute of limitations in cases which it would otherwise bar from proceeding.

If the priest or deacon voluntarily resigns from the ministry, which has often been the case in the past, these procedures are not called for.

The Mixed Commission recommends clarifying that the decision to undergo appropriate medical and psychological evaluation and where to do so must be with the agreement of the accused (revised norms, # 7).

Revised norms, # 12 clarifies and strengthens what was decided in Dallas about the need for accurate information being forwarded when priests or deacons are transferred.

The Mixed Commission is recommending the omission of original norm # 6 which dealt with establishing appellate review boards in each of the provinces into which Catholic dioceses
are divided. The Commission thought that the purpose and standing of such provincial boards were not sufficiently defined and would be difficult to reconcile with church law.

In additional comments, Bishop Gregory said that "the U.S. representatives on the Mixed Commission spoke most appreciatively of the willingness of the representatives of the Holy See to give every consideration to what had been accomplished in Dallas and how to accommodate that achievement within the law and practice of the universal Church."

The Mixed Commission was made up of four representatives from the dicasteries (offices) of the Holy See having direct competence in these matters: Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy; Archbishop Julian Herranz, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Archbishop Francesco Monterisi, Secretary for the Congregation for Bishops; and four representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops appointed by Bishop Gregory: Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago; Archbishop William J. Levada of San Francisco; Bishop Thomas G. Doran of Rockford; Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport.

A comparative table giving the original and the complete revised norms side by side. [Note from See also a copy of the original Norms, marked to show the revisions made by the Mixed Commission.]


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