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FACING SIN IN THE RANKS



Published: Thu, January 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



FACING SIN IN THE RANKS

Los Angeles Times: The Vatican announced new guidelines this month on how it will use ecclesiastical courts to try priests accused of sexually abusing minors. The new policy -- written, tellingly, in Latin and with little detail revealed -- was quietly published in the Holy See's official gazette. Church officials view the new rules as a way to more effectively deal with allegations of pedophilia against priests. But the internal policy could stymie criminal investigations.

Charges of child molestation or similar abuse are the business of criminal investigators, to be adjudicated in a courtroom. Under California law, members of the clergy have the obligation to report to civil authorities cases where there is reasonable suspicion of a crime, such as child abuse, except when the revelation occurs during confession. The church says internal proceedings would not preclude civil or criminal prosecutions of priests. The proceedings could, however, cause irreparable damage to a case by "contaminating" witnesses and evidence.

Pastoral obligation: An anonymous Vatican source quoted in media reports explained the new policy by citing what he termed the church's pastoral obligation to protect the rights of the accused. Indeed, men of the cloth, like anyone else, must be assumed innocent until proved guilty -- as the devastating false accusations leveled against Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago in 1993 made clear.

However, any institution's first obligation is to protect the children with whom it has been entrusted. With that in mind, the Vatican should follow its announcement of the new policy by giving public assurance that before any internal steps are made, church authorities will take specific precautions. The church should make certain that every credible suspicion that a priest has molested a minor is reported immediately to civil authorities. It should cooperate with all law enforcement investigations and assign the accused to duties that do not require contact with children until the matter is settled. The church says its policy is to report and cooperate, but it is not clear when authorities are to be notified. Finally, priests found guilty by a secular court of law should automatically be denied their clerical privileges and relieved of duties.

No doubt the church is sincere in pushing for reform. Keeping such efforts secret would be a mistake. Secreta suspicionem creant -- secrets breed suspicion.

TWO VISIONS OF AFGHANISTAN

Washington Post: Last week Secretary of State Colin Powell assured Afghanistan's interim leader, "We will be with you in this current crisis and for the future." His pledge will now be tested. Aid donors met in Tokyo Monday to pledge money for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and the early signs are that the promises will fall far short of needs. Even more troubling, the United States and its allies seem confused about the kind of reconstruction they aspire to. There are two plausible options here, but the muddled mixture that the world is currently pursuing seems unlikely to work.

The first, ambitious option is to make Afghanistan into a coherent state. This means building up the central government, coordinating aid programs in the capital and brokering a political settlement that enjoys nationwide legitimacy. This, on the face of it, is what the outside world aspires to: The Bonn talks that created the current interim government envisage a national convention -- or loya jirga -- to write a new constitution that will be followed by elections. Equally, Monday's meeting in Tokyo assessed a reconstruction plan drawn up by aid experts on the basis of visits to Kabul. The aid people's most immediate priority is paying the salaries of the central government workers.

Unstable fiefdoms: The trouble is that central governments can only count for something if they are backed by force. But the United States and its allies have been reluctant to provide more than a token peacekeeping effort. As a result, Afghanistan exists on paper only; it is actually a collection of unstable fiefdoms run by warlords. The reconstruction plans drawn up by the aid-backed central government are likely to mean little in these circumstances. Indeed, pouring money into the capital while the military muscle resides with provincial warlords may simply provoke a scramble to control the central honey pot, precipitating a new civil war.

The right response to this danger is to provide the central government with the military muscle to enforce its writ in the country. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's interim leader, has pleaded for more peacekeeping forces; on his flying visit last week, Mr. Powell acknowledged that Mr. Karzai needed an army and a police force. But if the Bush administration lacks the will to help create these bodies, and to back a foreign peacekeeping force while they are being assembled, it would be better to acknowledge that the centralized vision of reconstruction isn't going to work. Rather than dreaming of democracy and large-scale development, aid donors should confine themselves to much more modest objectives. They could bribe warlords to provide stability in their fiefdoms, fund basic local projects and ensure that none of the barons in this medieval landscape befriends some new terrorist band.




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