The U.S. bishops’ newly approved plan establishing procedures to report complaints of clergy sexual abuse and to hold its leaders accountable is an important step in the ongoing struggle to move beyond the crisis.
We pray that it works as hoped, and that the Church will in time fully recover the dedication and trust of the faithful.
The plan implements the “motu proprio” issued by Pope Francis in May following a Vatican summit in February on sexual abuse. The bishops were poised to take up a similar plan last fall, but they deferred action at the Vatican’s request until after the February summit.
Essentially, the bishops’ plan calls for using a national third-party reporting system to receive reports of abuse and forward them to the proper Church authority, utilizes proven lay experts as advisers, gives oversight responsibility to the metropolitan (an archbishop or bishop of a province with more than one diocese) throughout the investigative process, and other measures.
The third-party reporting system will allow people to make reports via a toll-free telephone number as well as online.
Is it a perfect plan? Of course not. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called it “a work in progress.”
By holding bishops themselves accountable, the plan closes a major gap in the bishops’ approach to the abuse crisis that was first addressed with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted in 2002 in Dallas.
The new plan also formally addresses for the first time complaints of abuse on vulnerable adults, which could include seminarians and other students, employees, nuns, persons in counseling and others over whom the accused cleric has authority or influence. This overlooked issue came to light in the case against Theodore McCarrick, the laicized cardinal accused of engaging in a pattern of sexually charged behavior toward seminarians.
The plan to address abuse, important as it is, was not the only issue of note taken up by the bishops at their spring meeting in Baltimore.
Also on the agenda was a topic described as the second-most important issue facing U.S. Church leaders: How to get the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” particularly young people, back to the Church.
Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron, chairman of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, gave a presentation that included the sobering statistic that 50 percent of Catholics 30 years old and younger have left the Church. “Half the kids that we baptized and confirmed in the last 30 years are now ex-Catholics or unaffiliated,” he told his listeners. Bishop Barron, who is known for his “Word on Fire” media apostolate and for hosting the documentary series “Catholicism,” urged the bishops to reach out to disaffected young people through social media and campus ministry groups.
The bishops also voted to revise a passage in the U.S. Catechism for Adults to update what the U.S. Church teaches its adult members about the death penalty. The new wording emphasizes the dignity of all people and the misapplication of capital punishment, aligning it with a revision by Pope Francis of the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church.
On the whole, it was a positive and productive meeting, and we’re eager to see where it leads.