Tuesday, June 11, 2019

"Bishops Debate Extent of Lay Involvement in Sex Abuse Response" by Michael J. O’Loughlin June 11, 2019, America




Preliminary discussion about proposals aimed at bishop accountability evinced some frustration among U.S. bishops at their spring general assembly this week in Baltimore, especially when it comes to the degree of lay involvement that can be mandated to be part of the process. Bishops expressed their intention to adopt protocols aimed at accountability, but they are still hammering out the details ahead of a vote on Thursday.


Bishop Robert P. Deeley, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee on canonical affairs and church governance, told the assembly on June 11 that any rules they adopt cannot exceed a policy promulgated by Pope Francis last month in the moto proprio “Vos estis lux mundi.” In that document, the Vatican decreed that allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct, as well as mismanagement, leveled against a bishop must be investigated by a metropolitan bishop or someone he appoints, or by a senior suffragan bishop if the metropolitan is accused.


It suggests that bishops rely on lay experts to carry out the investigation but stops short of mandating lay involvement. Several U.S. bishops have said that as a result, they cannot mandate lay involvement in their own protocols. But they also said it would be highly unusual for a metropolitan bishop not to take advantage of lay expertise.





Some bishops sought reassurances that lay people will be involved in every stage of any future investigations.


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Some bishops sought reassurances that lay people will be involved in every stage of any future investigations.


“A number of us are looking for ways to insert into the plan more robust lay involvement,” Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego told the plenary group. He asked if the U.S.C.C.B. could adopt a rule that says that anyone enlisted to examine allegations of misconduct or mismanagement by a bishop “needs to be a lay investigator.”


Bishop Deeley said no.


“We have said that he ‘should’ use laypeople,” the bishop said, but added, “we cannot say ‘must.’”


The possibility that bishops would have the option of handling claims of misconduct or mismanagement without the involvement of laypeople troubled the head of the church’s highest sexual abuse commission.


“A review board whose membership includes laity must be tasked with the review of allegations against bishops to restore the trust of the faithful in the bishops and even in the Holy See’s own processes for holding bishops’ accountable,” Francesco Cesareo, the chairman of the National Review Board, said in an address to bishops Tuesday morning. “The N.R.B. urges that this must be the case in the United States through the establishment of an ad hoc lay commission, either on the national or local level.”





“The church is inherently incapable of policing itself,” Robert Hoatson, the founder of Road to Recovery, told Faith in Public Life.


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Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, proposed a model of bishop accountability last November that is similar to the policy adopted by Pope Francis for the universal church in May. On Tuesday morning, the cardinal pointed out that the Vatican document allows for a metropolitan bishop to use “an ecclesiastical office” in carrying out an investigation and said lay review boards may be a useful model “to institutionalize” the inclusion of laity. Such a move, he said, would send a signal that bishops understand the gravity of the challenges they face.


“That’s an important message to send,” Cardinal Cupich said. In an interview with America later in the day, Cardinal Cupich said that metropolitan archbishops already rely on lay experts for assistance through various institutional offices in their dioceses and that he expects that practice to extend to bishop accountability should the new protocols be adopted.


The Most Rev. Steven Biegler, the bishop of Cheyenne, said in an interview with America that another possible way to ensure lay voices are part of the process is to require that the contents of any investigation be forwarded to Rome. He added that beyond policy changes, a culture of accountability remains an ongoing goal for bishops.


Though proposals include a mandate for church leaders to alert civil authorities if a crime is alleged, some victim advocate groups seem alarmed that bishops may try handling allegations of mismanagement without the aid of laypeople.


“The church is inherently incapable of policing itself,” Robert Hoatson, the founder of Road to Recovery, told Faith in Public Life, an advocacy group in Washington. He said the proposal for metropolitan bishops to handle the investigations of other bishops is “ridiculous.”





He said bishops must “respond to Pope Francis’s call for universal accountability” and “add clear new procedures to our existing protection programs.”


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“We know that doesn’t work,” he said of “bishops policing bishops,” pointing to the case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was removed from the priesthood following allegations that he sexually abused minors and harassed adult seminarians.


Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who serves as the chair of the Vatican commission charged with protecting children, said U.S. bishops should consider adopting language that would mandate rapidity when it comes to responding to allegations of misconduct or mismanagement against bishops.


He noted that once the Vatican is informed of an allegation, it has 30 days to respond and to provide further directions to the metropolitan bishop. Cardinal O’Malley said that this timeline may not work in the United States, saying, “waiting a month before you can begin the investigation...is a far cry from the usual practice.”


“I wonder if we can urge the Holy See to respond rapidly,” he added.


Earlier in the day, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the U.S.C.C.B. president and the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, said bishops must act boldly.


“Brothers, we gather this week to further the sacred work of rooting the evil of sexual abuse from our church,” said Cardinal DiNardo. He said bishops must “respond to Pope Francis’s call for universal accountability” and “add clear new procedures to our existing protection programs.”


Cardinal DiNardo has faced recent accusations that he mishandled a case involving a priest who carried on an affair with a woman the priest was counseling about marital troubles. In November, the cardinal’s office was raided by law enforcement investigating claims that a Houston priest sexually assaulted two teenagers decades ago. Cardinal DiNardo has denied wrongdoing in both instances, but that has not stopped some Catholics from calling for him to resign as head of the U.S. bishops conference.


“It is very hard to see how the conference can continue this way, with a president who is even worse than a lame duck,” the Villanova University church historian Massimo Faggioli told CNN. “The credibility of the U.S. bishops is in freefall, which can only be stopped by a visible change in leadership.”


In addition to the proposal on how to handle investigations of bishops, the body of bishops is expected to vote this week on establishing a third-party system for people to report allegations against bishops of misconduct or mismanagement and a code of conduct for bishops. They are set to vote on a 10-point statement, "Affirming Our Episcopal Commitments," in which the bishops hope to regain “the trust of the people of God” and commit themselves to the standards applied to priests in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.



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New poll: U.S. Catholics believe bishops need to manage abuse crisis better


Michael J. O’Loughlin


The document, presented on June 11 by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., chairman of the bishops' Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, has been updated from a version mailed to bishops in May. The previous document, then titled "Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments," had nine points. The current version has 10.


The newest point reads, “We are also committed...to include the counsel of lay men and women whose professional backgrounds are indispensable.”


Other points in the proposed document include explicit prohibitions on sexual harassment of adults, reiterating “that there can be no 'double life,' no 'special circumstances,' no 'secret life' in the practice of chastity," and a pledge to promote procedures for reporting allegations of abuse or misconduct.


Shortly after their discussion of sexual abuse, bishops heard a presentation from Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles about the large numbers of young Catholics leaving the church. Topics of discussion included distractions from electronic devices, a need to speak more forthrightly about religion to young people in the style of controversial YouTube star Jordan Peterson and the impact of “the wasteland of atheism,” as Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City put it.


One item not mentioned as a primary reason young people are leaving the church: the sexual abuse crisis.


Content from Catholic News Service was used in this report.

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