Abuse, racism and COVID-19: Advisory councils make recommendations to bishops 

Denver Newsroom, Nov 16, 2020 / 07:14 pm (CNA).- Clerical sex abuse, the COVID-19 pandemic and racial tensions were the focus of recommendations made by two councils that serve in advisory roles to the U.S. bishops at their fall general assembly.

The video remarks were pre-recorded, and thus were made before the November 10 release of the Vatican’s report on Theodore McCarrick, the former American cardinal who was laicized in 2019.

Deborah Amato, chair of the National Advisory Council, said one of the council’s recommendations was for bishops to make information about abuse protections and interventions more accessible for Catholics.

“While NAC recognizes that detailed and comprehensive reporting is available, the feeling is the information might be more accessible in a one-page infographic that might be in parish bulletins to inform and engage the faithful.”

The National Advisory Council consists of lay as well as religious members from a variety of ethnicities, ages and backgrounds, Amato said, and is “really the church in miniature.” Two of the council’s resolutions for the bishops’ meeting related to listening and dialogue about the ongoing racial tensions in the United States.

The first was that the bishops’ ad-hoc committee against racism be made permanent, although some were concerned that making it permanent “might diminish or compartmentalize the issue, rather than treating it as a ‘concern without boundary,’” Amato said.

The second racism-related resolution was that the bishops engage in a time of listening and self-reflection before engaging in dialogue about racism.

“Self-examination is foundational to the Catholic ethos and something all Christians are called to do regularly,” Amato said.

“What came out over and over in our discussions was the need to listen, reflect and then dialogue,” she added. “Our recommendation for this meeting is to begin a dialogue about racism by listening to many different voices and experiences, perhaps through video or audio…dialogue could take place on the following day after you’ve had time to quietly reflect on what you’ve heard and allowed it to penetrate your heart.”

She added that the council also discussed the need for the Church to clarify terms such as systemic or institutional racism, and the need for it to clarify the difference between support for Black Lives Matter, the organization, and “the fact that of course, black lives matter.”

The fourth resolution by the council was that the bishops help the Church play an “active role in domestic abuse recognition, intervention, recovery and healing,” a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Amato noted. The council “recommends that the Church becomes a safe haven for victims of domestic abuse by offering training and tools to our clerical and lay leaders as we follow the mission to protect and heal.”

The council affirmed the Church’s innovative and safe response to the COVID-19 pandemic, by offering things like live-streamed Masses or outdoor confessions. It also discussed concerns about the post-pandemic Church, and recommended that the bishops help revitalize efforts to bring Catholics back to the sacraments and to help alleviate the financial burdens of the pandemic on parishes and schools.

Suzanne Healy, chair of the National Review Board, also presented recommendations from the group’s most recent meeting. The National Review Board is a group that collaborates with the U.S. bishops specifically on the prevention of sexual abuse of minors.

Among those recommendations were some changes to the abuse auditing process, “which will result in a more comprehensive, more accurate accounting of events at the local level, and identify areas where we can improve,” Healy said.

She said the board also recommended that the bishops evaluate the effectiveness of abuse prevention training programs for adults and children, and that they increase efforts to “communicate to the laity the many ways in which you and the Catholic Church have made our nation safer.”

Finally, she said, the NRB recommended developing a toolkit to further assist bishops with creating safe communities.

“I join you in ensuring that our work to protect and heal and to adhere to the charter and norms remains neverending,” she said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the Church. May God continue to bless our survivors and our efforts to protect and to heal.”

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