By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
The United States Bishops began the second day of the Fall General Assembly on Tuesday by approving a letter addressed to the Pope. Proposals came forward regarding how to continue the momentum begun to “close the gap” so that The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People would also extend to Bishops. Lastly, information was provided regarding a reporting system for complaints involving a Bishop.
One item the Bishops have added to the agenda is that of a request to be directed to Pope Francis asking for the release of documents regarding former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Other Bishops expressed various ways that a discussion on including Bishops in the Charter would be helpful in bringing them to a consensus, even if it does not end in a vote, as had been foreseen. Cardinal DiNardo expressed his commitment to bring the consensus he hears to the February meeting of Conference Presidents with the Pope.
Synodality anticipating the Holy See
Bishop Robert McElroy suggested that the discussions initiated in 2002 in response to the abuse crisis, was an act of synodality, in union with, but in anticipation of the Holy See. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is a direct result of this act of synodality. What began in 2002 is now being completed, he continued, by making the Charter apply to Bishops as well. He proposed that a discussion leading to consensus could be undertaken as an act of synodality in union with the Pope and the Holy See, that may again anticipate them.
Sex abuse is most pressing issue
The National Advisory Council is a 48-member group that advises the Assembly regarding items on the agenda. Fr David Whitestone, National Advisory Council chair, expressed the pain endured by members of the Council when they met in September due to the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, the revelation of sexual misconduct by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the letter published by Archbishop Viganò. “There is no single issue as pressing" for the Church, he said, than the sexual abuse committed by clergy and bishops, and the “lack of transparency” on the part of Bishops.
Retired Colonel Anita Raines then presented the recommendations of the Council. These included: adoption of a code of conduct for Bishops; establishment of a third-party system to field complaints and accusations against Bishops and a commission to review them; audit of seminaries to investigate patterns of abuse; that an independent investigation regarding former Cardinal McCarrick be undertaken, and the details made public.
Bishops' response incomplete
Dr. Francesco Cesareo, of the USCCB National Review Board – the body created by the USCCB to monitor the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People – then addressed the Assembly.
Dr Cesareo frankly told the Bishops that although they have addressed many aspects of the clergy abuse crisis, their response remains incomplete. Some Bishops, he said, have not been open on the issue, resulting in the continued revelation of abuse by civil authorities and the media. In addition, Bishops who have committed abuse or failed to respond to allegations of sexual abuse have gone unpunished. He presented a few recommendations as to how Bishops could be held accountable and possible disciplinary measures or consequences.
Finally, Archbishop José Gomez, Vice-President of the USCCB, informed the Assembly about a third-party ethics hotline system which would accept complaints or accusations made against Bishops involving sexual abuse of minors, harassment or other sexual misconduct with adults, or failure to address abuse of minors in English and Spanish. The system, Archbishop Gomez reported, was approved by the administrative committee in September.