November 9, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Bishops obliged to make ‘real changes’ amid crisis

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

Every November, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meets for our annual fall gathering in Baltimore.

As described in its mission statement (cf., the USCCB exists to: 1) help the bishops of the United States “act collaboratively and consistently on vital issues confronting the Church and society; 2) foster communion with the Church in other nations, within the Church Universal, under the leadership of its supreme pastor, the Roman Pontiff; and 3) offer appropriate assistance to each bishop in fulfilling his particular ministry in the local Church.”

When we gather as brother bishops, we address a wide variety of topics and concerns, but we pay special attention to priority goals established for a three-year period. The five priority areas identified for the period 2017-2020 are: 1) Evangelization; 2) Family and marriage; 3) Human life and dignity; 4) Vocations and ongoing formation and 5) Religious freedom.

These are vital issues, and they will be addressed at our meeting in Baltimore next week as time permits, but obviously, in this climate dominated by allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up by Church leaders, there can be no “business as usual.”

We bishops have an obligation to address these issues candidly and to demonstrate—by our actions more than our words—that real changes are being made in the way we exercise the sacred duties we have been given by Christ the Good Shepherd.

On Sept. 19, the USCCB’s administrative committee met to discuss the agenda for next week’s meeting. Following their meeting, they issued this statement:

“We, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, assembled last week in Washington at this time of shame and sorrow. Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole. They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others. They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers. For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed. Turning to the Lord for strength, we must and will do better.”

The Administrative Committee took the following actions within its authority:

  1. Approved the establishment of a third-party reporting system that will receive confidentially, by phone and online, complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop and will direct those complaints to the appropriate ecclesiastical authority and, as required by applicable law, to civil authorities.
  2. Instructed the USCCB Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.
  3. Initiated the process of developing a Code of Conduct for bishops regarding the sexual abuse of a minor; sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with an adult; or negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.
  4. Supported a full investigation into the situation surrounding Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, including his alleged assaults on minors, priests and seminarians, as well any responses made to those allegations. Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services.

This is only a beginning. Consultation with a broad range of concerned parents, experts and other laity along with clergy and religious will yield additional, specific measures to be taken to repair the scandal and restore justice. We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable.

To anyone who has been abused, never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement. If you don’t feel comfortable for any reason with the Church providing help, your diocese can connect you with appropriate community services. With compassion and without judgment, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.

Acting in communion with the Holy Father, with whom we once again renew our love, obedience and loyalty, we make our own the prayer of Pope Francis in his Aug. 20 letter to the people of God, “May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction and our resolve courageously to combat them.”

These initiatives—and much more—will be discussed in Baltimore next week. Please pray for us as we work to protect the vulnerable and restore trust in the leadership of our Church. †

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