Meeting of the Cardinals
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GWEN IFILL: Now to Rome where two leaders from the Catholic Church join us, Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles and Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago.
Welcome. Cardinal Mahony, let’s start with you.
CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY: Good to be with you.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s start with you. Could you tell us what the cardinals decided today after these two days of meetings what you came up with.
CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY: Well, we had obviously very wide-range discussion on a number of issues dealing with the problem of sexual abuse, but we came up with basically six recommendations that we are taking back to the United States, and we’ll be sending those to the bishops of the United States in June, in Dallas.
And the six are basically this: Number one, to develop a uniform set of standards and guidelines that we can offer to all of our diocese to make sure we really protect children and young people for the future.
Secondly, to come up with some type of accountability in order that all of us are implementing these properly and probably with a great use of our lay people. Thirdly, we are asking the Holy See to assist us with some special canonical processes so that we might more readily and quickly dismiss from the clerical state those who are guilty of very notorious crimes of sexual abuse. And so those will be canonical issues.
Number four, we decided to ask for a new apostolic visitation of our seminaries and institutes of religious life — that is to go to our seminaries and make certain that we are having good screening, good application processes, good, sound doctrine — that all of our programs are sound. And fifth, we are calling on ourselves as the Holy Father did in his message to be people of prayer — bishops, priests, church, faithful, all of us to embrace holiness in a special way.
And finally, number six, we’re proposing to the bishops that we have a special day, or many special days, devoted to penance and prayer for reconciliation and healing in the Church.
So those really are the six fruits of our time together, and those will be brought back to the United States by us.
GWEN IFILL: Cardinal George, could you elaborate for us on the special canonical processes that Cardinal Mahony was just talking about in which you would dismiss people from, I assume, dismiss people from the priesthood is what you mean?
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: Yes, return them to the lay state, technically. Right now a laicization as it’s still called in popular language, is always done at the request of the priest.
So it’s a favor of the Church to permit a man who finds the priesthood a great burden to continue his life and therefore find his salvation in another vocation.
In this case, we’re talking about a laicization, which is not a favor because it’s involuntary. And so the present process is a judicial process, which is quite cumbersome and can take several years, the reason being that the Pope is very sensitive to the misuse of administrative process, because he lived in communist Poland where the government misused administrative processes. It was legal but there were no protections of human rights.
And he wants to be sure that the Church isn’t guilty of that kind of justice. So he wants to, nonetheless, to look at a special process, which would be not totally, not totally judicial, all the rights would be respected, but it could happen very quickly, because people don’t understand sometimes when someone is notoriously guilty of all kinds of crimes why we can’t move more quickly than we can right now.
GWEN IFILL: Cardinal George, let’s continue on that point, because there’s been much discussion here in the United States about the notion about whether and how priests should be disconnected from the priesthood if they are found guilty, or even alleged to be involved in these kinds of sexual abuse acts.
Did the statement that you put up today address that directly?
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: It addresses it, but not in so many words in that statement. There’s still more work to be done.
First of all, it’s important to prove that the allegations are in fact the case. There are false allegations, although in my experience I found most of the allegations against priests in this very shameful matter turn out to have some foundation in fact.
Beyond that, just as you can’t take away a person’s baptism, you can’t take away the fact that he’s ordained, it’s a sacrament. You can take away any rights to minister and, furthermore, any rights to be considered a priest in the Church, and that’s what we’re talking about.
GWEN IFILL: Cardinal Mahony, what do you do about priests who have in the past alleged or proven to have engaged in these activities?
Do you go backward and look back on the priests who you know have already been found guilty of these things or is this strictly future oriented?
CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY: Well, actually keep in mind that in early 1990s, at least the last ten or twelve years, most of the diocese in the United States have already been taking these men out of ministry. Most of the cases you’re hearing about today predate that. They’re old cases like we have in Los Angeles. Many of these men are retired.
So this process we’re looking at now is really prospective, that is, to help us from now forward. I have a couple of cases, for example, in Los Angeles of priests who were found guilty in criminal courts, served in state prison, but refuse to petition to be returned to the lay state.
That is a scandal for our people. So I need a way to return them to the lay state so that in no way they can be considered priests, and this will help us greatly.
GWEN IFILL: And, Cardinal Mahony, you mentioned accountability and uniform guidelines that will be established by the Church to try to enforce these things. You talk about who would be accountable, how would they be held accountable, who is the enforcer?
CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY: Well, you’ve got to remember back in 1993, the Bishops’ Conference issued its first set of proposed guidelines, and most dioceses began to build on those then. I know we did. And I know Chicago and everyone else did.
And so what we’re going to do is to look at all of those now, review them, involve our lay leaders in that process to make sure they’re all up to date and adequate, and then secondly, to make sure — through some way of accountability, which has not been determined — we will make sure those are constantly reviewed. For example, both Cardinal George and I, we have lay boards in our archdiocese that not only help us with these cases, and review them, make recommendations, but also review regularly and constantly the guidelines themselves.
This proposal is to make sure that all the dioceses are doing the same thing.
GWEN IFILL: Cardinal George, one of the other points that Cardinal Mahony made was this idea of going back to seminaries and revisiting them and trying to get to the root cause of some of these concerns.
Is that a correct interpretation? And also when we talk about root causes, are we talking about the debate that there has been in this country over celibacy and homosexuality?
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: The answer is yes to all of those, Gwen. The selection process is considerably more sophisticated now than it was when I was a seminarian, and we didn’t have quite the kind of psychological screening that is in place now. We were given psychological tests, but they were standard.
Now they have interviews and it’s much more sophisticated in most of the seminaries. We want to be sure that the motivation is correct, that’s a spiritual question; we want to be sure that the personality is normal.
And so we are asking that not only the selection process but, also, as Cardinal Mahony said, the teaching of the Church, the doctrine of the Church is done in a way that upholds the Church’s teaching on the gift of human sexuality.
Vis-à-vis that gift, people who are of a more liberal tendency dislike celibacy; people of a more conservative tendency have problems about homosexuals being ordained priests.
And we talked, naturally, about both those areas — concerned that the gift of sexuality be properly understood and therefore the gift of celibacy, which is an evangelical value, also be understood in the light of our deeper understanding of what it means to be a human being today. And that is a discussion where the Roman Curia, for its part, and the American Bishops have to continue to mull over this subject.
So it’s the initiation of a process, which will bring in the seminary formation people, and finally, I think, result in clearer guidelines for the selection of candidates.
GWEN IFILL: So it would be unclear still whether, for instance, a homosexual priest who is practicing a celibate life would still be an acceptable person to be a priest.
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: That’s discussed back and forth. The important thing is that, because a priest is called "Father," and he is always an elder in the Church– he’s not an ecclesiastical bachelor, he’s married to Christ’s spouse, which is the Church– that he be able to understand himself as a father and a spouse, and bring forth new children spirituality.
If that sense of identity isn’t there, then he doesn’t understand the nature of the priesthood and isn’t an apt candidate. So I think we’ll go at it that way, rather than start with the psychology; start with the sacrament.
GWEN IFILL: Cardinal Mahony, was there discussion about whether it is acceptable for a priest who has been found guilty of these kinds of offenses to continue to practice as a priest, but not oversee children, for instance?
CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY: Well, there was discussion about that. And I think there is a little variance across the country on some old cases — not with new cases, but some old cases where there are certain circumstances in some diocese where there may be a priest who had one unfortunate incident occur maybe twenty-five or thirty years ago, and has been involved ever since in some well-protected environment in ministry, not involving young people. There are some dioceses that are still doing that. We in Los Angeles decided not to do that.
But I think for the future, the Holy Father is encouraging us to not keep in ministry anyone who has been found guilty of the abuse of a minor. But there are across the country I think a few old cases where there still may be some protective service.
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: A bottom line, Gwen, is — are the children protected? One obvious way to protect them is to take out anyone who is ever guilty of anything that even looks like this. Another way is to monitor, but that is a disputed point right now, as Cardinal Mahony said.
GWEN IFILL: Was there any discussion, Cardinal George, about not only whether priests who are found guilty should be removed, but cardinals, people of your number who have overseen those priests who perhaps have looked the other way, should also be removed?
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: Well, cardinals have priests, but I think the accusation isn’t of sexual abuse of minors, but rather that we’ve been derelict, in some cases, in our oversight of the priests.
That came up, but it wasn’t decided or even discussed at great length, not enough to enter into the six proposals that are the fruit of this meeting. But it was noted.
GWEN IFILL: Well, Cardinal Mahony, let me ask you the same question to you.
Was that an oversight? Was that something that should have been part of this document that you’re coming up with today, that cardinals or Church leaders should be held accountable as well?
CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY: Well, no, I don’t think we had mentioned that specifically. I think the second point of the document calls for accountability at the local level. And that accountability, while it ends up in the bishops’ desk, is a shared accountability, and in our case and in Chicago’s case, involves a lot of lay people and other experts in these decisions.
But in terms of who stays as a bishop or not, that’s up to the Pope and the Holy Father, and not up to us.
GWEN IFILL: Cardinal Mahony, you spent… you two both have spent the last two days in a place that most of us will never go.
What was the tone like in these meetings? Were they anxious? Were they calm, tense?
CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY: Well, I’ll give my impression. I thought they were very, very good meetings. They were focused.
Cardinal Sodano, the secretary of state, was the president of our sessions. They were carried out in a very, very fraternal form. We had a chance to update and educate people in the Curia about our reality in our pastoral situation, the special crisis we’re dealing with, and to ask for their help.
And, the Holy Father responded, I think, magnificently with the message he gave us yesterday. Then, today we had lunch with him, and once again he offered us encouragement, and hope, and, you know, in his document, he said the house of the successor of Peter is open to all.
And he extended that invitation to us, and especially to everyone in the Church who is hurting. He went out of his way in that message to reach out to victims who are hurting, and who we are working with to also bring about healing and reconciliation. So I would characterize the days as very, very pastoral, very fraternal, and certainly very friendly.
GWEN IFILL: And Cardinal George, what were your impressions having been in the room as well?
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: I would share what Cardinal Mahony said, and there’s not much to add.
It’s an atmosphere of faith first of all, which is the reason why we have hope, knowing that the Lord is also part of our discussions and the Lord guides his church.
But it was a very European style meeting. Americans would find it quite formal. That is you start out with a statement of purpose, and then each individual in the meeting who has a right to talk gives his own impressions, and only at the end you get into the kind of style that Americans are used to — a more process-oriented style.
This is sometimes, for Americans, a very difficult process. We have to contain our own desire to enter into the discussion immediately, but in the end it pays off. And we have something definite, but in the end also what we have is the beginning of a process, which, I think, Americans can adjust to well, and which will involve the Roman Curia in new ways.
It’s the beginning of an important conversation not exactly the beginning, because the initiative started last February when the Holy See, the Cardinals in Rome asked for a clarification of what was going on in the U.S. Church
GWEN IFILL: But a continuation. Cardinal Francis George and Cardinal Roger Mahony, thank you both very much for joining us.
CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY: Thank you, Gwen, very much.
CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE: Thank you. God bless.
JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, the new world for Afghan women, going for the jobs, and a conversation about revenge.