Members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gather at the USCCB's annual fall meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Bishops weigh anti-abuse strategy after delay set by Vatican

November 13, 2018 - 11:18 am

BALTIMORE (AP) — Several Roman Catholic bishops on Tuesday urged colleagues at their national meeting to take some sort of action on the clergy sex abuse crisis despite a Vatican order to delay voting on key proposals.

"We are not branch managers of the Vatican," said Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois. "Our people are crying out for some action."

He suggested a nonbinding vote to convey a sense of the bishops' aspirations regarding anti-abuse efforts.

Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, echoed Paprocki's call, saying parishioners and priests in his diocese are "very, very angry."

The three-day assembly opened Monday with a surprise announcement by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Vatican, he said, was ordering the bishops to delay votes on two anti-abuse proposals until after a Vatican-convened global meeting on sex abuse in February.

DiNardo indicated there were two principal reasons for the Vatican order: to ensure that steps taken by the U.S. bishops would be in harmony with steps decided at the February meeting, and to provide more time for vetting aspects of the U.S. proposals that might conflict with church law.

Even without the option of a formal vote this week, the U.S. bishops proceeded with discussion of the two key proposals. One would establish a new code of conduct of individual bishops; the other would create a special commission, including lay experts, to review complaints against the bishops.

However, the bishops are under pressure to take additional steps, as stressed in an address to the assembly Tuesday by Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, which the bishops created in 2002 to monitor the church's efforts to prevent clergy sex abuse.

"Your response to this crisis has been incomplete," Cesareo told the bishops. "It is shameful that the sin of abuse was hidden and allowed to fester until uncovered by the secular world."

He cited the grand jury report released in August in Pennsylvania. It detailed decades of abuse and cover-up in six dioceses, alleging more than 1,000 children had been abused over the years by about 300 priests. Since then, a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia has begun working on a federal criminal case centered on child exploitation, and attorneys general in at least 11 other states have launched investigations.

"How many souls have been lost because of this crisis?" Cesareo said.

He urged all U.S. bishops to commit to conducting a thorough review of their dioceses' files, dating to at least 1950, and publicly sharing a list of any clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults.

"To maintain credibility, the review process must involve the laity in some form, such as a diocesan review board or external firm," Cesareo said.

Some bishops had taken this step, he noted, and urged the others to follow suit.

Cesareo also endorsed the bishop conference's proposal for a thorough investigation of the scandal involving disgraced church leader Theodore McCarrick. Pope Francis removed McCarrick as a cardinal in July after church investigators said an allegation that he groped a teenage altar boy in the 1970s was credible.

Subsequently, several former seminarians and priests reported they too had been abused or harassed by McCarrick as adults, triggering debate over who might have known and covered up McCarrick's misconduct.

Another speaker, Anita Raines of the conference's National Advisory Council, said any investigation of the McCarrick case should determine what sort of care his victims received and provide details of financial settlements they received.

Raines also called for an audit of Catholic seminaries in the U.S., including investigation of possible "predatory homosexual behavior" taking place at them.

At one point during the morning session, Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, expressed dismay that the Vatican "doesn't trust us" and asked Cesareo what the USCCB should do.

"Decisively act on this issue and continually move it forward," Cesareo replied. "If that doesn't happen, I fear for the future of our church."


Crary reported from New York.