By Christopher Wells
Guided by the Scriptural admonition to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22), the Administrative Committee of the US Bishops Conference has adopted four specific measures as a first step in addressing the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church. In a statement released on Wednesday, the Committee announced that they have:
“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 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.”
Only a beginning
The Administrative Committee emphasizes that these steps are "only a beginning.” The statement looks forward to consultations with laity, clergy, and religious in order to find specific measures which can be taken “to repair the scandal and restore justice.” They also “humbly welcome and are grateful to the whole people of God in holding [the Bishops] responsible.”
The Committee’s statement also calls on every Bishop “to join us in acts of prayer and penance,” and notes that it is a time “of deep examination of conscience for each Bishop.”
Support for abuse victims
The Bishops detail the support available for victims of sexual abuse, while at the same time encouraging them to “never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement.” They pledge “to heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.”
In communion with Pope Francis
The USCCB leadership notes that they are “acting in communion with the Holy Father,” with whom they met last week. They conclude their statement by making their own the prayer of Pope Francis: “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."
Please go to the USCCB website to read the full statement.