Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear recognizes that the problem with the USCCB’s 2002 norms for policies dealing with allegations of sexual abuse by clergy is that they provide no way to deal with bishops who fail to adopt the norms or who, having adopted, fail to abide by them. Into the former category falls Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, who considers the policy non-binding and would like it to disappear. Into the latter falls Cardinal Archbishop Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, whose failure was exposed by a grand jury earlier this year.
What to do? “We don’t have any ability or authority to sanction anyone,” said Bishop
Blase Cupich, chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on the Protection of
Children and Young People, who has responsibility for presenting some minor fixes to the norms at the bishops’ Seattle meeting this week. True dat, but it doesn’t mean that if there were a will to do something, there’s wouldn’t be a way to do it.
We need to remember that the norms themselves “constitute particular law for all the dioceses/eparchies of the United States of America” because they received a formal recognitio from the Vatican–as mandated by canon law in Canon 446. That’s what makes them binding. Bishops may be subject only to the discipline of the pope, but a procedure could be put in place whereby, say, a committee of U.S. bishops would be required to notify the Congregation for Bishops when they had reason to believe that one of their brethren was in violation of the norms. Whereupon an inquiry would be undertaken in Rome, with sanctions to follow as warranted.
Is there any reason to think that the U.S. bishops and/or the folks in the Vatican are interested in establishing such a procedure? Of course not. And that’s pretty much the point, isn’t it?