U.S. bishops announce new abuse-prevention measures and call for McCarrick investigation

Catholic News Agency

.- The U.S. bishops’ conference has announced new accountability measures in response to recent clerical sex-abuse scandals. The reforms include the establishment of an independent reporting mechanism to receive complaints against bishops, and the development of a Code of Conduct for bishops.

A statement released Sept. 19 by the USCCB’s Administrative Committee said that the new steps being taken to combat abuse are “only the beginning,” and that consultations were underway with laity, clergy, and religious on how better to “repair the scandal and restore justice.”

The Administrative Committee’s statement announced four key policies.

The first is the creation of a confidential, third-party reporting mechanism to handle “complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop.” This system, the statement said, will direct those complaints to the appropriate civil and ecclesiastical authorities.

The statement also said that the USCCB’s Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance had been instructed to develop proposals for policies to address restrictions on bishops who have either resigned or been removed following “allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.”

The Administrative Committee also announced it has begun a process for 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.”

Finally, the statement said, the committee supported a full investigation into the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, including the allegations made against him concerning the sexual assault of minors, adults, seminarians, and priests, and the Church’s response to those allegations.

“Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services,” the statement said.

Recognizing the widespread criticism of Church authorities in the wake of recent scandals, the committee said they “welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable.”

“This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop. We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the Church has been sufficient.”

The bishops also urged any victims of abuse to come forward, either to Church authorities or to civil law enforcement.

“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 judgement, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.”

According to the statement, the committee met to discuss the proposals last week. The announcement also follows a Sept. 13 meeting between Pope Francis and senior U.S. bishops, led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the bishops’ conference.

“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 statement said.

COMING UP: Archbishop Aquila supports USCCB Executive Committee’s call for independent investigation

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Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has issued the following letter expressing his support for USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo’s and the Executive Committee’s call for an independent investigation in the wake of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s testimony released earlier this week:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Many of you are aware that this past weekend the former papal representative to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, released a testimony that makes serious allegations about the Archbishop McCarrick abuse case.

In my interactions with Archbishop Vigano I have found him to be a man of deep faith and integrity. I join Cardinal DiNardo and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Executive Committee in calling for the Holy See to conduct a thorough investigation that includes granting authority to a lay commission to examine the many questions that surround Archbishop McCarrick, such as who was involved in covering-up his gravely immoral behavior or failed to act to stop it.

As Cardinal DiNardo said on August 27, “The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.”

While righteous anger, deep frustration, and deep sorrow are understandable, and my heart breaks for the victims of abuse as well as for you that you must suffer this trial, we must all “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ the perfecter of faith.” He is our strength! He is the truth who will set us free!

Jesus asks each of us, “Who are you going to serve?” Will it be the Lord, or the false gods of today – power, careerism, entitlement, sexual promiscuousness, and so many others? While we are in the world, we are not of the world and we are called to be of Christ alone, deepening our closeness to him in the sacramental life of the Church!

The call to holiness is real and possible, as Jesus tells us, “for God all things are possible!” Yet, when we let the ways of the world form us rather than the Gospel and Jesus, when we put more trust in the world than in Jesus, we end up where we are today. While, this is not the first time in the history of the Church that she has been rocked by a lack of faith and immorality among her clergy, as history teaches, only a strong return to Jesus Christ and his ways will heal the horrific sinful breach that has taken place!

The Gospel reading from John 6 last Sunday presents us with Jesus’ challenging question after he taught about his Real Presence in the Eucharist. He asked Peter and the other disciples: “Do you also want to leave?” Peter responded with his great statement of faith that gets to the heart of the matter. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

We must pray for a deep faith in Jesus Christ, one that grows and deepens each day. We must live our lives in intimacy with Jesus, the Holy One of God! It is Jesus who will see us through this time of trial and purification, who will help us to live out the Beatitudes and be faithful to the commandments.

Know, my brothers and sisters, that you are in my prayers. Know that I am deeply grateful to you for your fidelity. I pray that your hearts and the heart of every disciple may be ever more conformed to the heart of Christ!

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Archbishop Aquila

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows:

“In communion with the Holy Father, I join the Executive Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in taking upon ourselves his exhortation, ‘this open wound [of abuse] challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice.’

“On August 1st, I promised that USCCB would exercise the full extent of its authority, and would advocate before those with greater authority, to pursue the many questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick. On August 16th, I called for an Apostolic Visitation, working in concert with a national lay commission granted independent authority, to seek the truth.  Yesterday, I convened our Executive Committee once again, and it reaffirmed the call for a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.

“The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò brings particular focus and urgency to this examination. The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.

“I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action. That plan includes more detailed proposals to: seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops. Inspired by his recent letter to the people of God, and his motu proprio of two years ago, As a Loving Mother, I am confident Pope Francis shares our desire for greater effectiveness and transparency in the matter of disciplining bishops. We renew our fraternal affection for the Holy Father in these difficult days.

“To the survivors of abuse and the families who have lost a loved one to abuse, I am sorry. You are no longer alone. Since 2002, hundreds of professionally trained staff across the country have been working with the Church to support survivors and prevent future abuse.  Nationwide, the Church has a zero-tolerance policy toward priests and deacons who abuse, safe environment training, background checks for those working around children, victim assistance coordinators, prompt reporting to civil authorities, and lay review boards in dioceses.

“In other ways, we have failed you. This is especially true for adults being sexually harassed by those in positions of power, and for any abuse or harassment perpetrated by a bishop. We will do better. The more she is buffeted by storms, the more I am reminded that the Church’s firm foundation is Jesus Christ. The failures of men cannot diminish the light of the Gospel. Lord, by the help of your mercy, show us the way to salvation.”