Laity to Serve on Church Tribunal Reviewing Select Priest Sex Abuse Cases

In a move to facilitate removal of priests convicted of sexual abuse cases, Pope John Paul II earlier this month agreed to allow lay people to serve on the church tribunals that decide abuse cases. The change, which requires that the lay people either be deacons or trained in canon law, is expected to expedite the trial process by eliminating intervention from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith–currently responsible for handling priest sex abuse cases, according the New York Times. However, it only applies in cases where the priest has admitted to the abuse, or in extreme situations where the offense is particularly deplorable.

Although organizations such as the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) are pleased to see increased laity involvement in sex abuse cases, they are concerned that the policy shift remains inadequate. “True justice and real change will happen in the civil and criminal courts, not in the secretive bishop-run church structures,” John Salveson, leader of the Philadelphia SNAP chapter, told the New York Times.

Meanwhile in Massachusetts, Bishop Richard Lennon is launching his first major spiritual initiative dealing with the priest sex abuse scandals. His plan, which will take place during the 40-day period of Lent, includes an address at Mass on both Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday, as well as a five evening prayer sessions throughout eastern Massachusetts, where priests, without their liturgical vestments, will confess their sins among the laity. Boston College Professor of Theology, Rev. Matthew Lamb praised the initiative, saying “The church has to find her own spiritual voice in this, not in the sense of any kind of public relations ploy, but really for the sake of those who have suffered abuse and injustice. Spiritually, it’s very important that this time of Lent be one of repentance,” according to the Boston Globe.


NY Times 2/27/03; Boston Globe 2/25/03

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