Between “grave errors” and “serious cases”

Between 'grave errors' and 'serious cases'

Pope Francis prays for victims of abuse © Paul Haring (KNA)

Pope convenes summit of national bishops' conferences and religious superiors on abuse. A chronology of key events shows the Vatican's handling of the ie.

1983: The 1983 Codex Iuris Canonici (CIC), the canon law still in force today, adopts from its 1917 predecessor the paraphrase of sexual misconduct as a violation of the 6. Commandment ("thou shalt not commit adultery"). Canon 1.395 § 2 of the canon law applies exclusively to priests and religious and prescribes "just penalties" up to and including de-legitimation from the clerical state.

1994: Irish Reynolds government falls over case of pedophile priest who was not adequately prosecuted.

1999: Ireland's government officially apologizes to all victims of child abuse and sexual abuse and provides five million euros in funding. Cases in church and state homes date back to the 1940s.

March 2001: Reports of sexual abuse of women religious by priests, especially in Africa, cause a stir.

April 2001: A papal decree (Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela) stipulates that sexual offenses committed by priests henceforth fall under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Letter assigns sexual abuse to "very serious" offenses, (delicta graviora). The harshest disciplinary sanctions under canon law are provided for relevant cases. It also introduces a statute of limitations of ten years.

May 2001: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, explains the new legal situation in the letter "De delictis gravioribus"; it is published exclusively in Latin. After coming into force, some 3 worldwide.000 accusations of sexual transgressions by secular and religious priests reported from past 50 years.

2002: After numerous abuse cases come to light in Boston and other dioceses, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopts strict new guidelines. This "zero tolerance" policy includes, among other things, an extension of the statute of limitations and automatic laicization. The new policies become particular law for the U.S. Church and apply complementarily to CIC. In contrast, the 2002 guidelines of the German Bishops' Conference are legally non-binding recommendations. Boston Cardinal Bernard Law resigns over alleged cover-up and is given a post in Rome.

Spiritual orders in Ireland seek €128 million in compensation for abuse victims.

2008: In the USA meets Benedict XVI. for the first time with abuse victims. The pope prays with them and listens to them. In Australia there is another meeting with victims.

2009: In the Legionaries of Christ community, a system of lies and abuse is revealed, set up by founder Marcial Maciel Degollado, who died in 2008. After Maciel's sexual offenses come to light, Benedict XVI orders. A comprehensive inspection and replaces the entire leadership of the order. Community draws up new statutes.
2010: Father Klaus Mertes, then head of the Jesuits' Canisius College in Berlin, sets the ball rolling on uncovering the abuse scandal in the German church. Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier becomes special commissioner for abuse cases. A victim hotline is set up. In July, the Vatican will increase the statute of limitations to 20 years. In addition, the previous provisions on child pornography will be clarified. Accelerated procedures will be provided for dealing with cases of abuse.

2011: Benedict XVI also meets in Germany. Along with abuse victims.

January 2018: The Pope's visit to Chile is overshadowed by the abuse scandal there. Francis initially puts himself before an accused bishop there with harsh words, but is caught up with realities. In a letter to Chile's bishops, he admits "grave errors" in assessing the situation and sends a special envoy. For May, he calls all Chilean bishops to a crisis meeting at the Vatican and in turn makes serious accusations against them. Nearly all offer to resign; pope has now accepted eight of them.

June 2018: As the highest-ranking Catholic Church dignitary to date, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide is sentenced to prison by a secular court in Australia for covering up abuse cases. He resigns in response to public prere. Five of his 12-month sentence may be spent in house arrest.

Summer 2018: U.S. abuse scandal gains new momentum. Former Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, 88, is accused of having sex with a ward and abusing two minors. He resigns from the College of Cardinals – a unique event in 90 years.

In the state of Pennsylvania, a state grand jury accuses some 300 priests, most of them deceased, of abusing at least 1 in the past 70 years.Of abusing 000 children and teenagers. A "culture of cover-up" by church superiors had prevailed in the state's dioceses under investigation. Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, 78, is also coming under scrutiny. Former nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, accuses the pope of going easy on men like McCarrick and fomenting moral decay in the church from a zeitgeist-liberal stance.

August 2018: The main trial of Australian Curia Cardinal George Pell (77) begins in Melbourne over two cases of sexual assault. Media banned from reporting due to Australian legal situation. Pope Francis writes four-page letter on abuse scandal to bishops of world church.
September 2018: Pope Francis to convene summit of national bishops' conferences worldwide and with religious superiors on abuse in late February.

November 2018: The U.S. bishops plan to adopt two action plans at their fall plenary session – but the Vatican is putting the brakes on national action with an eye on February's international summit.

February 2019: Ex-Cardinal McCarrick to be dismissed from clergy post.

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