"We were received cordially and graciously.
On the first day each of the nine Bishops’ Conferences was given thirty minutes to speak about the problem in their own country. The Congregation had asked each to present statistics. Most explained the problem in their country, told something of its history and then spoke about particular changes that they sought from Rome.
On the second day three experts chosen by the Congregation for the Clergy spoke to us.
The first was a lay moral theologian from Boston, Professor John Haas, who had been asked to speak about the rights of the priest offender in these matters. He did not touch on the rights of victims or on the pastoral problems facing the local bishop, so it was a one-sided moral dimension that he had been asked to present. In answer to a question he freely and honestly admitted that he would not be prepared to take the rights of priest offenders so far as to run the slightest risk of any of his own eight children being abused.
The second speaker was a German psychiatrist, Professor Ludz, who seemed to have had little personal experience in the field and who failed to impress.
The third speaker was a very competent canon lawyer from the Gregorian, Prof. Gianfranco Ghirlanda.
On the third day each of the Roman dicasteries addressed us from its own viewpoint.
The most useful of these speeches came from Archbishop Pompedda of the Signatura Apostolica. He insisted on a judicial process if permanent penalties are to be applied, but then systematically went through CTJH.303.01001.0006 2 every way in which the process of the Code could be adapted to the needs of cases of abuse.
It was by far the most practical and helpful talk we heard, though it still left us with a number of major problems. Basically, we wanted to know why we needed a learned paper on ways to get around the law rather than have a law we could apply directly.
There was little understanding of our problems in providing all the trained priests such judicial processes would require. We were told that this is the judicial process the Church has adopted and bishops must send more priests to Rome to be trained in canon law!!!
On the afternoon of the third day we were quite worried about whether our real concerns were being heard. So when a time for free discussion was offered, our people spoke one after another about the sordid reality of the situation.
One Canadian bishop had been appointed bishop at the age of 65 for a diocese of 36 priests, six of whom were in prison. The other Canadian bishop was appointed when his predecessor was sent to prison for rape.
Speakers from other countries also tried to bring home the reality. The Curial officials certainly listened intently and some were obviously moved by the power of what was said.
However, they still needed an ABC course in the very basics of abuse, and it was impossible to do this in the brief time available.
There was some evidence of movement among the curial officials during the meeting, but it is impossible to say how much stayed with them after the meeting.
Throughout the meeting they were responding to the problems that we had raised. At no time was I conscious of any desire to confront the entire problem of abuse, to understand the dynamics of it, to seek out anything in the Church that might contribute to it and to do all possible to overcome it. I was not conscious of any desire to give leadership to the whole Church in ensuring a just and compassionate response by all Church authorities.
At the end of the meeting, we were duly thanked and sent on our way, while all power rested with them. We were not told what would happen after this and no promises were made of further consultation. I found the whole process disheartening and frustrating. Perhaps I expected far too much from one meeting, but I left feeling that there was a vast gulf between us and I had no idea how to bridge it.
Perhaps I can best illustrate this by quoting a footnote to a discussion paper of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that I saw while I was there. It concerns the question of prescription and illustrates how far apart the two value systems are.