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USCCB admits “great harm” caused by “some bishops”; outlines steps to address crisis

The bishops, for the first time, frankly acknowledge that there is a general corrosion of moral culture within the ranks of the Church’s clerical and hierarchical leadership.

Pope Francis meets with officials representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the Vatican Sept. 13. From left are Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the conference, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the conference, Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, general secretary of the conference. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement today, which for the first time gives Catholics some small reason to hope that maybe — just maybe — the episcopal leadership of the Church in the United States, at least, is beginning to understand the nature and gravity of the crisis their protracted failure has precipitated.

Issued by the Administrative Committee of the USCCB — the principal governing body of the Conference outside plenary session — the statement outlined four steps the Administrative Committee has taken on its own authority to address the crisis. Those steps are, in full:

  • Approval of 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.
  • Instructions to 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.
  • Initiation of 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.
  • Support for 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.

The Administrative Committee acknowledges that these steps are not adequate to address the full scope of the crisis. “This is only a beginning,” they write. They go on to call for broad consultation with concerned Catholics, including lay experts as well as clergy and religious, in order to develop and implement further measures. “We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable,” the Administrative Committee writes.

“Broad consultation” will likely not be enough to satisfy either the faithful or civil authorities with respect to the bishops’ bona fides in these regards. Responsible involvement of laity has become a sine qua non of any response to the crisis that wishes to have a hope of being credible.

Nevertheless, for the first time, the bishops frankly acknowledge that there is a general corrosion of moral culture within the ranks of the Church’s clerical and hierarchical leadership, which has destroyed the trust on which the bishops’ ability to lead must be based.

“Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole,” the Administrative Committee writes at the top of their statement. “They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others,” they continue. “They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers.” So forthright an admission of widespread failure and miscarriage of duty has been a long time coming. It is welcome, even though it does not satisfy.

One of the criticisms commentators and analysts — including this writer — have made of the bishops’ response, is that they have focused too exclusively on the case of Theodore McCarrick, giving the impression that they would have the faithful believe he was the problem, and not merely a grotesque and awful symptom of a systemic disease.

If such an acknowledgment was too long in coming and still not enough, it is a small step in the right direction. “For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed,” the Administrative Committee says. “Turning to the Lord for strength,” they promise, “we must and will do better.”

The Administrative Committee concludes its statement with protestations of filial love for and loyalty to Pope Francis.

“Acting in communion with the Holy Father, with whom we once again renew our love, obedience, and loyalty,” they write, “we make our own the prayer of Pope Francis in his August 20 letter to the people of God: ‘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’.”

The Executive Committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops met with Pope Francis last Thursday to discuss the crisis. There were high hopes for that meeting heading into it, as the USCCB’s president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston had announced his intention to ask the Holy Father to sanction an Apostolic Visitation into the McCarrick affair and related issues.

The result of that meeting was an expression of desire, “[of] continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps.”

Now, it falls to the US bishops to make good on their commitments. It belongs to the faithful to hold them to the promises they have made, and to demand a responsible part in even stronger measures — ones really apt, as the Administrative Committee says, “to repair the scandal and restore justice.” Whether this is a real beginning of that long and arduous work, or merely more empty words, remains to be seen.


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About Christopher R. Altieri 110 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, writer, and editor based in Rome, Italy. He spent more than a dozen years on the news desk at Vatican Radio. He holds the PhD from the Pontifical Gregorian University, and is the author of The Soul of a Nation: America as a Tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood.

19 Comments

  1. Shouldn’t the Bishop of Rome, if guilty of negligence, fall under the scope of the following edicts? I just don’t get this seeming assumption of immunity for a Pope. Donatism aside.

    “Initiation of 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.”

  2. Show me where the word “homosexual” appears even once in this word salad of policies-and-procedures bureaucratic bafflegab. Show me even one bishop who admits that he made grave mistakes. Show me even a single commitment that homosexuals will be barred from seminaries and deposed immediately if they have received Holy Orders. There are rude and vulgar terms that expressly more fittingly what this is. The polite phrase would be dung.

  3. This is good, but I feel they’re still ‘tip-toeing’ around the problems. My faith in the Bishops telling the full truth of the matter is still dubious…but my faith in Jesus is unshaken.

  4. More USCCB gibberish. I searched the word “homosexual.” Nowhere to be found, of course. I don’t want tp hear anything more from this lavender mafia.

  5. “The situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick”, yes, but only an initial beginning…

    Nothing here, yet, about exposing and restricting in some way (?) McCarrick’s past influence-peddling in the elevation of some–who now are positioned to help deal with (?) only the more easily-quarantined aspects of the Scandal of 2018. At the global scale, Pope Benedict XVI resigned largely because of the metastacized NEXUS between homosexual infiltration/tolerance AND money laundering in the Vatican Bank.

    Then there’s the resulting issue of truncated evangelization. Will the so-called “Truce of 1968” (mutual silence re Humanae Vitae) be followed by a Truce of 2018 (no direct response to insidious and septic homosexual-culture intrusion)?

    The reassurance that “this is only the beginning” will come to mean more when the USCCB finds a way to deal with McCarrick’s modern-day simony (clique membership as the currency du jour), and the resulting, selective and eliding proclamation of the Gospel, that is, marketable political and social goals segregated from clear guidance in perennial morality. The Beatitudes are one thing, but the Commandments are still another: “…the commandment of love of God and neighbor does not have in its dynamic any higher limit, but it does have a lower limit, beneath which the commandment is broken” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 52).

    And the worst cut of all would be if the laity is maneuvered by Old Scratch to regard the USCCB/all of the bishops as “they”, rather than as one with “us” within the sacramental Body of Christ.

  6. I’m beginning to think that it is not past the USCCB to further prove the genuineness of their corrective/collective actions to call in ‘The Looooooooone Ranger’ aka [Fr. James Martin] to convince Catholics in America of the bishops sincerity.
    Okee Dokee. Someone find a place for ‘Silver’ to stay while Fr. Martin convinces everyone we can relax…………”Everything’s gonna be OK.”

    Hi Ho Silver………..and away.

  7. The statements of the article ore so general and ambiguous. They don’t seem to have any teeth in them nothing concrete. And the Holy Father’s “silence” is troubling to me.

  8. These men deserve to be investigated.

    They do not deserve any faithful Catholic’s trust.

    Pope Francis is totally without credibility, having, even before his numerous abusive acts as Pope, devoted his previous episcopal career to protecting sex abuser Rev. Julio Grassi, the notorious Argentina abuser now imprisoned for 15 years.

    This explains Pope Francis restoring the sex abuser McCarrick, restoring the sex abuse coverup artist Cardinal Danneels, and restoring priestly faculties to the homosexual predator Rev. Mauro Inzoli, despite the man being investigated and found guilty by the CDF and stripped of priestly faculties by Pope Benedict.

  9. “Support for a full investigation into the situation surrounding ArchBishop McCarrick”.

    Given that he has been plying his slimy trade since about 1971 I think busting him down to regular Priest would be a good start and MIGHT help to BEGIN to restore a small measure of trust here. IMO nothing can really get done until these people understand the depths of our distrust of them. All the gobbledygook talk, at which they are very proficient, does nothing to address that. It will take some empty collection plates to get their attention.

  10. What they would really like to proclaim in the same breath as Bergoglio’s death sentence “realization” is that not only is the image of God retained by those who gravely sin but also the “additional virtue” of grace and the image of Christ. (see. Stephen Long’s “Magisterial Irresponsibility” for the inspiration/borrowing of terms used here). For this Pope and hierarchy, it is not possible, as in Thomas, for man to be “worse than the beasts who cannot sin.”

    Bergoglio is taking us further into sin mysticism (and NGOism) uniting the better sinners with the better anonymous Christians and the better atheists who cannot be hypocrites in essentially what is a politics of this world vs a “theology.” Is even God Himself truly transcendent for these Bishops, but also “in process.”

    In short, ‘the harm done?” If McCarrick is really a “private matter” (a la Maradiaga) for them that got away along with other “consensual” relationships, what is the meaning of anything they say? Why should we give them any money?

    It’s “not just about McCarrick” so let’s not focus on him? Here’s my snide response at this point: is it OK if we investigate/prosecute/toss out all the various McCarricks on the list lesser and greater before we realize these various McCarricks as deeper symptoms and do this clean up without any need really for a deeper diagnosis other than sin?

    What’s being given short shrift in all of this “sexual scandal” is the role of money, financial misconduct.

    “Discernment?” Willed ignorance.

    At this point I have more faith in “the weapon,” the Rosary…in God’s will… in our enemies in civil authority.

  11. As Phillip Lawler points out (see his story at Catholic Culture), now that the US Bishops came back with no announcement of apostolic visitation, we now know for certain what many suspected: Pope Francis will do nothing to investigate the sins and crimes of Bishops. We now know from Francis himself that he will do nothing to bring the truth to light.

  12. I’m a lay member of the Catholic Church in Europe and here is my opinion : Any bishop (this includes the Pope, bishop of Rome), priest or deacon of the Church who covered up just one single proven sexual abuse case, should immediately resign/be made to resign and immediately be deprived of his ecclesiastical rank, authority and function. We’ve had more than enough words now, we very urgently and desperately need concrete actions. If these radical but fair actions are not undertaken in a very near future to restore my confidence in the Chruch’s leadership, I for one, will cease to support the Church financially. These depraved men are a complete disgrace to the Body of Christ.

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