“The ball is now in rome”

Why is the Pope putting the brakes on the US bishops' package of measures against sexual abuse?? Francis does not want the Americans to pre-empt a worldwide solution, analyzes Vatican expert Ludwig Ring-Eifel.

Interviewer: What did the package of measures that the U.S. bishops actually wanted to adopt consist of??

Ludwig Ring-Eifel (head of the Catholic News Agency and Vatican expert): The package consisted broadly of four steps or four components. One was a kind of set of rules on how bishops should behave in the future in matters of abuse. Then the establishment of a special commission to investigate complaints when bishops have not complied with these rules – that is, when they have covered up, simply transferred priests or not acted tough enough against abuse. Further, a set of rules that included penalties for bishops – either for being guilty of sexual misconduct themselves or for not prosecuting offenders hard enough. And finally a special committee should be created, where one could deposit such complaints against bishops.

And all this – and this was the crux of the matter – should be organized by lay people, i.e. not by bishops, with the argument: bishops themselves are too involved and perhaps treat each other too graciously. After the slogan: A crow pecks no eye out of the other one. That's why lay people and maybe even outsiders – people outside the Church – should oversee these things. All in all, I think that was a bit too far-reaching – something that caused headaches in the Vatican, especially for canon lawyers, with the question of whether all this is even possible within the framework of canon law.

Interviewer: How could it go on now??

Ring-Eifel: The Pope has asked the American bishops to put this package of measures on hold for the time being. He did not say: This is wrong. But he said: Please wait and see. Next February we will meet worldwide – all presidents of all bishops' conferences – and discuss this problem of sexual abuse. And then we also discuss how to deal with bishops who have been guilty in one way or another. The pope doesn't want the Americans to rush ahead now with their own regulation, which is also problematic in terms of canon law, and thus call into question what is to be introduced at the world level. That's my interpretation.

Interviewer: But how realistic do you think it is to have a unified global solution?? After all, the situations in different countries are quite different.

Ring-Eifel: Yes, but there is a worldwide canon law. It has always been the case that despite the different situations in different countries, one has a worldwide uniform church law. This has been a huge step forward and it should stay that way.

I think it will go in the direction of actually setting up a kind of special court in the Vatican, which will then judge bishops who have been guilty of misconduct in one way or another. The pope had already held out the prospect of such a special jurisdiction, but then postponed it again. I don't think he'll be able to get past establishing something like that in Rome.

Interviewer: Now U.S. bishops told to wait until February. This is a long time. They are under quite a bit of prere. What does that mean for the Catholic Church in the U.S., if it cannot present its own concepts for the time being??

Ring-Eifel: The prere is no longer so much on the American bishops, but now the ball is really in Rome's court. Because the pope has said: Dear people in Baltimore, now keep the ball low. We regulate this in Rome and it is valid for everyone worldwide.

Now all eyes are on Rome. Now Francis must deliver and must find a regulation that also restores the credibility of the Catholic Church in America. The American bishops themselves cannot do that now. In a sense, the power to act has been taken out of their hands.

Interviewer: Now this is speculation, but do you think the pope will take a look at what the laity have come up with?

Ring-Eifel: He will do that for sure. Because what the American bishops have presented or wanted to present has a few interesting elements. I also believe that he will take over some of it. But it will probably not be adopted one-to-one as the Americans had in mind.

The interview was conducted by Heike Sicconi.

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