Bishops’ meeting in Baltimore left much work to be done

“An internal investigation of the McCarrick scandal,” writes Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, “without the use of competent and qualified lay investigators will hardly be considered transparent and credible.”

Bishops listen to a speaker Nov. 14 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The November General Assembly of Bishops in Baltimore was a difficult but perhaps unavoidable experience for us to move forward as a Church.  I was very disappointed to learn that the Holy See found it necessary to insist that the USCCB not take action at this time on the proposals presented by our conference leadership.  My frustration, shared with many other people, is this: We have known about the scandal of Archbishop McCarrick since the end of June, and our Church must take immediate, decisive and substantive action in light of the deep wound the scandal has caused.

I am not so concerned about the time it is taking to punish the perpetrator.  Pope Francis immediately required the Archbishop to resign from the College of Cardinals when Cardinal Dolan announced the New York review board found a credible and substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against him.  I’m okay with the fact that further penalties (which could include McCarrick’s return to the lay state) will take more time for a complete canonical process.  McCarrick isn’t going anywhere and he is already living a life of imposed prayer and penance.

But much more is needed than simply meting out a just punishment.  How could his rise to such an influential position in the Church have happened?  I am concerned how the national conference of bishops and the Holy See answer that question.  An internal investigation of the McCarrick scandal without the use of competent and qualified lay investigators will hardly be considered transparent and credible.  We need and must utilize the best and brightest people to do a top-notch investigation and study of the problem.  Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta is the most qualified Catholic clergy to lead such an investigation, but without knowing that his collaborators include competent laity, the public may not perceive his eventual report as independent and complete enough to be believed.

At the time of this writing, there has not been one bishop, archbishop or cardinal in either the Holy See or the United States who has come forward on his own to repent publicly of his sins of omission or commission with regard to Archbishop McCarrick’s series of promotions over decades.  Please, be men, not cowards, and come clean on your own! There doesn’t have to be a formal and long, drawn out investigation for a bishop to exercise a little compunction and concern for the well-being of the whole Church.  An independent and transparent investigation is all the more necessary when culpable hierarchs exhibit an incapacity to do the right thing on their own.

The laity are the only ones who can keep the hierarchy accountable and get us out of the mess we bishops got ourselves into.  My singular focus throughout the Baltimore meeting was to advocate and push for greater public involvement of the laity at all levels of the Church.  Why can’t we have well qualified, nationally known and trusted lay experts named to the special task force announced by the president of the USCCB?  We are too insular and closed in as a hierarchy, and so are some of our processes at the USCCB.  The Second Vatican Council gave us not only the freedom but the obligation to utilize and engage the gifts and talents of the laity in the life and mission of the Church.

Beyond the McCarrick scandal, we have more work cut out for us with regard to putting into place protocols and institutional structures to build credibility in the hierarchy’s handling of sexual abuse cases going forward.  History proves that we bishops are not capable of policing ourselves adequately on the issue of clergy sexual abuse. Why not include the laity to assist us with this problem?  The document the Missouri Province of Bishops presented to the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People on Oct. 6 was intended to offer a set of principles for the USCCB to consider as it was developing proposals for the full body of bishops, including the involvement of the laity.  We Missouri bishops wanted something valuable to come from our November meeting.

And so, I was disappointed that even the mild proposals up for consideration at the Baltimore meeting had to be pulled from a vote.  It was a rather harsh reminder to me of what many lay people have been saying throughout our Diocese: We bishops are ineffectual in our attempts to address the problem of abuse of power by the hierarchy.  The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has had a marked impact on lowering the number of incidents of abuse by clergy since 2003.  But with the aggravation of the McCarrick scandal,   the laity and clergy are now rightfully asking that we get it all out, once and for all, and respond with an urgency that this crisis deserves. We literally have people dying because of the harm caused by predator clergy, and survivors of abuse are further victimized when we fail to take swift action.    Seeing certain retired bishops who were notoriously responsible for covering up clergy sexual abuse at this year’s General Assembly in Baltimore as welcome guests was a slap in the face to all who have been wounded by the clergy.  This example of episcopal arrogance and clericalism evidences the fact that we still don’t get the problem.

The whole Church is needed to solve our problem which the whole world knows about.  What more do we have to hide?  If we are going to move forward, we need to have authentic communion and a genuine synodal process.  And this requires transparency and better communication between the clergy and the laity, between the USCCB and its own members, and between the USCCB and the Holy See. We need to become the Church Christ founded us to be.

Some of the most poignant comments I heard during the listening sessions in our Diocese were in response to the question asking for people’s dreams for their children and grandchildren. People spoke of a Church where their children and grandchildren would find the love, mercy and hope of Jesus Christ, a community filled by God’s graces and led by holy priests. Despite our current lethargy, I believe we are witnessing the rebirth and renewal of our Church in our day. And I feel very blessed to be part of that renewal with each of you.  We are better together.

(This column originally appeared on the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri website and is reposted here by kind permission of the Diocese.)

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About Bishop W. Shawn McKnight 1 Article
The Most Reverend W. Shawn McKnight is the Bishop of Jefferson City, Missouri.


  1. The Pope either doesn’t understand the depth of the crisis in this country or he doesn’t care.

    The days when the Pope could command respect just by virtue of his office are passed, and to me he doesn’t seem to have a clue about that – or he doesn’t care.

    • It’s not that the Pope does not understand the problem. Neither is it a case of the Pope not caring.

      The truth of the matter is -the Pope is a major part of the problem. He aids and abets sexual deviants, promotes sexual abusers to high positions, encourages perverse priests who promote heresy, accuses and ridicules those who are faithful to the teaching of Christ.

      How can one who is the problem, understand the problem?

  2. Obviously, bishop, you are one of the few true shepherds we have. You’re likely not one of the not-too-few homoheretics among the hierarchy. Until and unless the bishops face up to the root problem of homosexuality among the clergy, the abuse of minors will never go away. Unfortunately, because the college of bishops cannot police itself, it will be left to the secular world to do so. I predict that the college of bishops of the Catholic Church, including the Bishop of Rome, will be convicted of violations of the Federal RICO laws. As a result, the Church’s tax exempt status will be removed, assets confiscated and all contracts with the Feds will be terminated. It’s not unlikely that the Church will be bankrupted. The bishops will then turn to the laity that they refused to use to remedy the problem but the laity will turn a deaf ear. Christ is not amused with the shepherds.

  3. Your Grace, Canon Lawyer Edward Peters recently stated that while the Vatican can forbid the USCCB from voting on proposals for lay oversight and protecting minors and vulnerable adults, it does not prevent Bishops from implementing those proposals in their own dioceses immediately. I would strongly advise all the Bishops (especially the 83 who voted in favour or releasing all McCarrick files) from doing so immediately.

    • My Bishop, Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne/South Bend, already has such a lay board in place that includes both psychologists and law enforcement on its roster. He has also released the names of all credibly accused Priests (including retired ones) to the public.

      So it can be done if the bishop has the will to take a stand in defense of his flock.

      May God bless my bishop and all those bishops who stand in defense of their flocks. May God move the bishops who have not yet taken a stand to do so.

  4. There is no doubt that the spirit of McCarrick is the spirit of the agents of Pope Francis: abusers, liars, manipulators, living double-lives committing sodomy (like McCarrick) or adultery (like Bishop Kieran Conroy of England), men who have no supernatural faith, but live only for the Church as an end in itself, men who are contemptuous of faithful Catholics (be they fellow Bishops, prominent lay Catholics of the National Review Board, clergy and lay people) who are seeking the truth.

    What they have enslaved themselves to is a counterfeit post-Catholic zombie establishment, it’s reward nothing more than political influence in their own countries, honorary degrees from post-Catholic universities, millionaire lifestyles, summer beach houses, lavish retirement mansions they fund from by selling the endowments given by the long dead faithful, world travel, maximizing their gratification, until the dread day of their assisted living center, and the grave.

  5. You bishops all have to admit what has been going on. So far, no bishop has admitted to the problem that he KNOWS is at the root of all of this.The bishops must admit:
    1) That a significant number of priests are homosexual, despite directives from the church NOT to ordain homosexuals. You must admit and apologize and explain to us WHY you continually allow homosexuals to become priests
    2) You have to admit that there was some connection between your allowance of homosexual priests and the abuse of thousands of children. 80 percent of the abuse was homosexual abuse of teenagers. You have to admit that it was a grave error to admit large numbers of homosexuals to the priesthood.
    3) You have to admit that the 2002 measures, in part, covered up a significant part of the problem. Whether done out of fear of reprisal by homosexuals in the priesthood, or because you wanted to be nice to men you thought were good priests, or because you would have had no priests, you have to admit that the 2002 effort covered up significant facts and sought to mislead the faithful
    4) You have to admit that almost every bishop KNOWS about the homosexual problem, and has sought to hide what he knows from his lay people.
    5) The bishops must admit that a significant portion of them suffers from SSA.
    6) The bishops must admit that they have hidden these, and many other, important facts from the laity
    7) In hiding relevant information, the bishops have committed a grave sin, and have put children at risk, and have needlessly put lay people through courses that assumed the lay people were potential abusers, when they knew full well where the problem lay. In doing so, they needlessly sexualized young children by forcing them to go through this type of sex ed stuff.
    8) Bishops must admit that homosexual sex, sometimes open, sometimes hidden, is a normal part of being a Catholic priest in some areas. Every priest should stand before his congregation and admit it. He should tell people what he intends to do about it. He should inform them that he does not do this. Or if he does, he should admit it.
    9) The bishops should admit there is a link between failure to preach the Catholic faith and the heterodox views of many homosexual bishops and priests. There is not a direct link in all cases, but there is a correlation. There is a link beteen bad liturgy and bad cathecisis and rampant homosexuality inthe presthood.
    10) Bishops should admit that the Cupich led study that tried to tell us there was no connection between homosexualty and abuse was a cover up.

    This is just a start. There are many more. But at least the constant lying, lying by omission and infiltration of the preisthood by unworthy men must stop. This is what the bishops must do. Anything less than this, or another attempt to lie to us, or ignore us etc will be the death of the church. We realize the church is very rotten now, and priests and bishops either start telling the truth about everything, or they are not fit for their jobs.

  6. I’m willing to admit I was ready to pounce given the “…left much work to be done…” in the headline. There is not a doubt about that. A whole lot more work than what was on their hands than when they walked in.
    These men appear to be totally unaware that they just keep digging a deeper hole for themselves. That is truly difficult to absorb given the depths to which they have sunk. Really nothing less than astounding that a leadership body of any sort could be reduced to this level of absurdity. I was left nothing less than jaw dropped at the cluelessness exhibited by Tobin and Levada in published interviews.
    Cupich’s performance was nothing less than revolting. Nothing unusual there. He is only rivaled by Wuerl. The Wuerl/Cupich axis is stomach wrenching.
    Cupich, Wuerl, Tobin, Levada and Bergoglio. What a brew. None of them appear to be aware of what they reveal about themselves with every syllable.
    This article however I found to be an honest and thoughtful reading of last week’s theater of the absurd. Necessarily prudent given the toxic atmosphere of fear and loathing sensible wherever there are mindful faithful. Here is a bishop who is actually listening. That is a refreshing reality that is very deeply appreciated.

  7. Wrong. Why will lay people be the solution when they contributed to the problem? Psychiatrists and psychologists who treated and declared pedophiles “cured” – where are their voices now? Attorneys who thought giving half million “payoffs” (half kept by fellow attorneys) to alleged or “credible” victims. For this amount of money and by attorney activism victims come crawling out of the wood work! Amazing how “recalled memory” can conjure up events then promoted by “false news”.

    I attended Catholic grade schools, a Benedictine boarding school for high school, two Jesuit Universities. Also, I volunteered and worked in Dominican medical missions,with Franciscans with the homeless and against deployment of weapons of mass destruction like nuclear bombs, and took clinical pastoral education courses At 4 different sites with or by priest supervisors plus worked with chaplains at multiple hospitals. Also, worked with and helped start a Catholic Worker community.
    Why mention all this? Because – I never knew or knew of an abusive priest or of anyone ever abused or even approached! I’m 73 yrs old. Never accosted myself. Ever! I’ve known a few lonely and needy priests, but not one who was inappropiate. That’s my ecperience. Same for the 20 bishops I’ve known. All were loving, sacrificing, holy men. Except one: a homosexual bishop who was blackmailed by a middle age man. He was a good man with a weak point. He was sent into isolation and died there of cancer after a few years.
    That’s my story and I am sticking to it.
    Oh, yeah. I’ve seen lists of credibly charged priests and known some of them. Many worked with homeless, alcoholics, drug abusers, and criminals – just like Jesus would. I just don’t believe their charges are credible in most cases.
    Pace Bene, John P. Stangle

    • “Why will lay people be the solution when they contributed to the problem? Psychiatrists and psychologists who treated and declared pedophiles “cured” – where are their voices now?” In many cases, these “experts” were not even Catholics, or were dissenting catholics. They were consulted by bishops and diocesan officials who no longer believe anything catholic. Don’t blame the Catholic faithful. We had nothing to do with this mess.

  8. Your excellency – (should you make it to this point in the combox) I would like to offer a thought regarding the state of discipline among the priests of the US and elsewhere, that’s easily dismissed and disregarded as being out-of-bounds, nevertheless, here it is. All of the good, holy men who make up the novus ordo priesthood not withstanding, the spiritual, moral and even intellectual state of the priesthood is at such a devastatingly low level because of the New Mass. It is a human-centered rite which, valid as it may be, emphasizes the gathering-of-the-community to a fault and pushes the sacrificial character of the Mass to the peripheries (to borrow a rather current term). This has harmed the priesthood immeasurably. Spiritual discipline must be restored immediately and there are few more effective ways to strengthen self-sacrificial priestly character to the priesthood then to recover the old Mass, offer it at your Cathedral, and to encourage other priests to learn it. Wherever it is allowed to take root and grow, it generates an abundance of good fruit. However in the current state of the Church it is attacked and hated by the Modernists and is the cause of anxiety to the “conservatives” who are afraid it may upset the people in the pews. At the point that were at now,these considerations should not matter. Time is of the essence and souls – including the immortal souls of priests of your diocese – are at stake. There are few things that can be done in a fairly rapid manner to strengthen and encourage your priests in doing good than to learn how to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the (“old”)Mass.

  9. The title of this article would be hilarious, were it not so cynical. Yes, there remains “much work to be done.” Such as abolishing the USCCB, jailing many of its current members, and establishing an Inquisition to drive the sodomites OUT of the Church.

  10. This is a wonderful piece by a very good bishop. He hits the nail on the head (actually several nails). Is there a single bishop who would place principle above position, and risk his place among the hierarchy (as so many saints did) to underwrite the goodness of the Church? A good point made was the absolute need for significant lay participation in any process to address this scandal. Another good point asked why the retired but scandal-ridden bishops were invited to the conference, and in the cast of Roger Mahoney, even allowed to speak at length?

  11. The Cupich proposal is totally unrealistic. If the metropolitans were to be the judges of reform, this would include McCarrick, Wuerl, and some others, who would scarcely be reliable reformers. If the plan were workable ,where were the suffragan bishope of Cardinal McCarrick all those years? And if there is yet another culpable metropolitan, how would he handle the situation?
    There may be canonical restrictions; after all, the pope and the bishops have the commission of Christ to govern the church. Yet, if there is to be any credibility, the bishops must rely upon the assistance of the laity in carrying out that governance.

  12. DiNardo has been sucker-punched a third time. No visitation, no voting, now this.
    Ergo, we have been sucker-punched.
    Pope is not interested in American Catholics or care about their spiritual welfare. And McCarrick is still an archbishop.
    Wake up faithful Catholics! Gays are in control and the church is on fire. Bet on it.

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