At the June meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, major attention was given to strengthening efforts to address clergy child sexual abuse and assuring accountability of bishops.
Below is a summary of the meeting including excerpts from a resource prepared by Conference staff which highlights the new policies and procedures we bishops adopted. All were supported overwhelmingly.
The Bishops approved three documents related to reporting and investigating claims of abuse or the intentional mishandling of these cases by bishops.
Protocol Regarding Available Non-Penal Restrictions of Bishops. It addresses the status of bishops who were removed from office or resigned their office for reasons of sexual abuse or intentional mishandling of cases.
Affirming Our Episcopal Commitments. It reaffirms the commitments bishops make to live according to the Gospel, including chastity and charity, and to place ourselves under the same high standards applied to priests, deacons, and lay personnel including the Charter.
Directives for the Implementation of the Provisions of Vos estis lux mundi Concerning Bishops and their Equivalent. It applies especially to the reporting and investigation of complaints against bishops.
Currently such allegations can be made to law enforcement, chanceries, or to the nuncio (the Pope’s representative to the United States). A confidential third party reporting system will be established that will supplement (not replace) these other options.
We bishops also made the commitment to appoint a qualified lay person to receive reports of bishop misconduct and to publicize the means by which such complaints might be made and to assure an independent investigator chosen from the list of lay experts previously prepared in consultation with bishops of the province, in our case the dioceses in Minnesota, North and South Dakota.
Recently Pope Francis issued a document which must guide how these issues are dealt with throughout the world, not just in the United States. Given the inherent diversity of countries and cultures, it is important to recognize its universal or international intent.
This document provides for a mandatory process for Church investigations of complaints against bishops for sexual abuse of a minor. It also addresses complaints against bishops for sexual acts involving adults regarded as vulnerable, and for mishandling such abuse or harassment cases. It mandates internal reporting of such cases, offers whistleblower protection for those reporting, and prohibits any imposition of silence on those reporting.
It also expands the definition of vulnerable adults to include seminarians and any person forced to engage in sexual acts due to an abuse of power.
The Holy Father has structured the handling and investigation of complaints against bishops through the archbishop of the province or region, in our case the Archbishop of St Paul-Minneapolis. If the complaint is against the archbishop himself, it is the senior bishop to which the complaint would be referred.
We also pledge to inform the person asserting such an allegation of their rights under these new procedures and church law. We also established a process to address potential conflicts of interest and to assure such conflicts will not result in prejudice, retaliation or discrimination.
As might be expected, frustration was expressed at the meeting for the delay in explanations of the career history of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. In October of last year the Holy See announced a study of the documentation present in the Archives of the Offices of the Holy See concerning this matter. Investigations are also under way in the four dioceses he served as bishop. It is expected that a public report will be issued when these studies are completed. I pray it will be soon.
Let us pray that these actions will prove to be effective in addressing the horror of child abuse by clergy and anyone acting in the name of the Church and will help assure accountability of bishops so great a concern of so many.
I commend to you the brief yet hopeful publication by Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary of Los Angeles and chair of the USCCB Committee on Communication entitled, “Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis.” It is available for one dollar through www.sufferingchurchbook.com
In his preface Bishop Barron states clearly what so many of us are thinking:
“This is a cry from the heart. I am a lifelong Catholic and I’ve been a priest for thirty-three years and a bishop for four years. I have dedicated my life to the Church. The sexual abuse scandal has been for me, for millions of other Catholics, and especially for the victim-survivors, lacerating.
“I have written this book for my fellow Catholics, who feel, understandably, demoralized, scandalized, angry beyond words and ready to quit.
“What I finally urge my brothers and sisters in the Church to do is to stay and fight—and to do so on behalf of themselves and their families, but especially on behalf of those who have suffered so grievously at the hands of wicked men.”
His is a sentiment with which most of us can relate. What sustains me is the truth that it is Christ’s Church. He will see us through this heavy time as he has His Church over centuries to rid his body of “wicked men” and anyone who seeks under evil influence to distract us from Him in whom is our hope.
Please pray for all victims of any sin committed under the guise of Christ’s Church, and their families and friends.
Let us also take up the challenge of Bishop Barron to stay and fight for Christ’s Church, our hope and our salvation.