July 26, 2005

The Word From Rome



A recent decree by a Vatican congregation removing the well-known founder of a religious order from active ministry could indicate how Pope Benedict XVI will handle the sexual abuse crisis.

The action also may provide some hint of how the Vatican could handle other high profile cases of a similar nature, including one involving the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a worldwide religious order.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the decree May 27 in the case of 73-year-old Italian Fr. Gino Burresi, founder of a religious order called the Congregation of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. ...

The May 27 decree against Burresi is the culmination of a long ecclesiastical battle. Accusations of sexual misconduct with seminarians first emerged in June 1988, at which time Burresi was removed from San Vittorino and sent first to an Oblate residence in Austria, and then to Tuscany. The Oblates conducted a lengthy investigation. In the end, 11 accusations surfaced, though no canonical process against Burresi was launched. These accusations generally involved sexual contact between Burresi and young adult seminarians, not minors.

Sexual misconduct, however, is not the primary charge. On May 10, 2002, a tribunal within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concluded a penal process against Burresi that had been launched in 1997, five years after his split with the Oblates. The process resulted in a decree signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and his secretary Tarcisio Bertone, today the cardinal of Genoa. That decree, similar to the one issued on May 27, was never applied because the criminal process on which it was based had been annulled by a 10-year statute of limitations in canon law.

Posted by kshaw at July 26, 2005 10:25 AM