Sex abuse, religious freedom on agenda of cardinals' meeting

Cardinal's red hats. (CNS)

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI has convened a meeting of the world's cardinals to discuss a wide range of topics, including clerical sex abuse and religious freedom around the world.

The "day of reflection and prayer" will take place at the Vatican's synod hall Nov. 19, the day before the pope presides over a consistory to create 24 new cardinals, a Vatican statement said Nov. 8.

In the past, Pope Benedict has participated in such sessions, listening carefully and summarizing the main points at the end of the meeting.

Read NCR senior correspondent John L. Allen Jr.'s report: Cardinals to discuss sex abuse crisis Nov. 19

The morning session will begin with discussion of the situation of religious freedom in the world and the new challenges being faced, with an introductory talk by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state. Recent problems faced by Christian minorities were a major topic at the special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.

The cardinals will then take up the question of "Liturgy in the life of the church today," with introductor remarks by Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

The afternoon session will hear three reports. Cardinal-designate Angelo Amato, head of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, will speak on the 10th anniversary of "Dominus Iesus," the doctrinal congregation's 2000 statement that underscored the unique and universal salvation offered by Christ through his church.

Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will then address the topic, "The response of the church to cases of clerical sex abuse." In the wake of new disclosures of sex abuse by clergy, particularly in Europe, Pope Benedict has called for the church to undergo a period of penitence, humility and "sincerity" to restore trust.

Cardinal Levada will also report on the 2009 document "Anglicanorum coetibus", which established a special structure under which groups of Anglicans can enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church while preserving aspects of their Anglican spiritual and liturgical heritage.

Responding to the Vatican announcement, Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement:

"It’s easy and tempting to assume this is a positive sign. But that’s irresponsible. We’ll only know if this is a good development when we see action resulting from this meeting. To be swayed by mere talk is to betray vulnerable children and wounded adults.

"Talking about abuse is easy, preventing abuse is hard. It takes decisive action to oust predator priests and complicit bishops. And when it comes to abuse, this Pope, like his predecessors, has shown little commitment to real action.

"Before any hopes get raised, let’s remember that it’s likely that every man in the room next week has ignored and concealed clergy sex crimes or is doing so right now. The prospects of substantial reform happening next week are therefore pretty slim.

"The meetings we believe are the most productive involve police, prosecutors and other secular officials who use the open, time-tested justice system to uncover long-concealed clergy sex crimes.

"In the spring of 2002, Pope John Paul summoned US cardinals to Rome for a similar event. There’s little evidence to suggest that any real good emerged from that meeting."

[NCR staff contributed to this report.]

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