October 24, 2018
When the U.S. bishops gather for our annual meeting in Baltimore, we must address forthrightly two important issues related to clergy sexual misconduct which have come to light over the summer months.
The first has to do with assessing to what degree we have kept the promises we made in 2002 with the adoption of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. I am confident the Archdiocese of Chicago is complying with the promises made in 2002, and in fact we go beyond them.
We cooperate with and report allegations of child sexual abuse to civil authorities; we inform our parishioners and the public by publishing the names of credibly accused priests; we reach out to victim-survivors for pastoral care; and maintain a comprehensive safeguarding program which includes background checks on and training of all personnel who work with children and an age-appropriate education program to teach children to recognize and report improper behavior.
Even with this record of sincere effort on the part of many in the archdiocese, I am taking the additional step of asking an outside expert to examine our files and conduct a retrospective and current review of our sexual abuse policies and procedures.
The Pennsylvania grand jury report triggered serious doubts that U.S. bishops have kept their 2002 promises, motivating other civil authorities, including our own attorney general, to investigate the church. While each bishop has jurisdiction for the particular church he serves, we also have a moral responsibility for the whole church, especially within our own country. That means finding a more effective way of holding each other accountable has to be a priority this November.
The second issue is related to allegations of misbehavior by bishops. When we passed the charter in 2002, we added a “Statement of Episcopal Commitment,” pledging to follow a procedure for reporting allegations of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, invoked this protocol after he received a complaint of sexual abuse of a minor against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.
He followed the protocol by informing the Holy See, which in turn authorized him to do a full investigation with his lay review board. Once that board determined that the allegations were both credible and substantiated, Cardinal Dolan sent a report to the Holy Father. The pope then authorized a public statement of the findings and removed Archbishop McCarrick from public ministry, which led to his departure from the College of Cardinals.
But more needs to be done to make it easier for victims to come forward with allegations against bishops and to assure the independence of the review process. The Administrative Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is taking steps to address this critical issue.
It has begun the process of setting up a third-party confidential reporting system to handle complaints of sexual abuse of minors by bishops and sexual misconduct with adults by bishops. It has also instructed the USCCB’s canonical-affairs committee to develop policies to address restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual misconduct with adults. In addition, the Administrative Committee has also initiated the process of developing a code of conduct for bishops regarding the sexual abuse of minors and sexual misconduct with adults – including negligence related to such cases.
I will advocate that each bishop declares publicly his commitment to allow and fully cooperate with an independent lay board to review any allegation of misconduct with a minor made against him and to make their findings public. We must make it clear to each other and to the faithful that no one will be exempt from accountability.
The culture of privilege and self-protection must come to an end. We will do well to remember that Cardinal Joseph Bernardin submitted himself to the archdiocesan review process when an allegation was made against him. His example speaks powerfully to us today.
While I was in Rome for the Synod on Youth, I was asked about the angry reaction of American Catholics to the developments of the past months. I fully acknowledge the righteousness of that anger, but I am convinced that beneath the anger is a deep sadness, the sadness of disappointment rooted in knowing we are better than this. It is that belief that we are better and can do better that gives me the hope and courage to do everything I can to move the church forward in this difficult moment.
We bishops owe those we serve consistency, reliability, transparency and accountability. There is nothing more important to the church than protecting young people and vulnerable adults and there is no reason why we cannot get this right. I ask for your prayers, trusting that with God’s help all things are possible.