Lay advisor urges U.S. bishops to reconcile with all Catholics over clergy abuse

Matt Hadro   By Matt Hadro for CNA

Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pray at their fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland on Nov. 11, 2019 / Christine Rousselle/CNA

Washington D.C., Jun 17, 2021 / 12:32 pm (CNA).

In responding to clergy sex abuse, U.S. bishops must expand their reconciliation efforts to include not only victim survivors, but all Catholics affected by the abuse crisis, the head of a lay advisory body to the U.S. bishops’ conference said on Thursday.

Suzanne Healy, chair of the National Review Board (NRB) – a lay advisory group to the U.S. bishops on protecting minors from abuse – addressed the U.S. bishops at their virtual spring meeting on Thursday.

“Since 2018 and 2019, there has been increased focus and expansion on responding to victim survivors by Church ministers,” Healy said, alluding to the recent revelations of abuse and misconduct by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and by other bishops.

“But we must evolve in our response to reach the community of people in the pews, the people who have left the pews, and those who have yet to fill the pews, as well as the clergy who have suffered for the past failing of their brother clerics and have been devastated by the crisis,” she said.

The bishops are meeting for their annual spring meeting from June 16-18. They heard addresses from conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles on Wednesday, as well as from the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christoph Pierre.

On Thursday, the bishops are scheduled to vote on approval of two causes of canonization, as well as on authorizing the creation of a statement on Native American ministry and a teaching document on the Eucharist. They will also vote to approve a pastoral statement on marriage ministry.

The National Review Board was constituted by the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) in 2002, after widespread revelations of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics that spanned decades and which occurred around the country. The board advises the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

In her address to the bishops on Thursday, Healy said that the historic nature of most recent allegations of clergy sex abuse – allegations that date back decades – is evidence that recent abuse prevention standards are working.

Healy said that an annual audit from the compliance auditor StoneBridge revealed that 4,250 abuse allegations were reported in the year 2020 – and that most allegations were several decades old.

“This large number gives the appearance that nothing has changed in the Catholic Church, and we know that isn’t true,” she said, pointing to the age of most of the allegations. In the current year, 22 allegations have been reported – less than 1% of the previous year’s total – she said, adding that “of course, one is too many.”

Audits are conducted annually to ensure compliance among dioceses and eparchies with the 2002 Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People – drafted by the U.S. bishops as a response to the abuse crisis of the time.

Healy urged the bishops to strengthen abuse prevention, accountability, and transparency efforts.

Publishing lists of clerics with substantial abuse allegations – including diocesan, religious, or eparchal clergy – is just one way to tell survivors “we hear you,” she told bishops.

“We have a long way to go to be as transparent as possible in this area,” she said. “The NRB encourages you to look at such lists as exemplary models of transparency.”

She requested that all dioceses implement a formal parish audit program for child protection as “good risk-management,” noting that 35% of U.S. dioceses have yet to do so.

“We have not reached our commitment to the [Dallas] Charter until we have 100% participation from all dioceses and eparchies,” she said.

Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston affirmed the importance of parish audits in the comment session following Healy’s address. He pushed for the audits to be conducted on-site, citing his previous experience as a pastor.

“That’s really where you find out what is going on, and we need to know what is going on, on the ground,” he said.

The review board also recommended audits of the bishop abuse reporting service, the national third-party reporting system for allegations of abuse, neglect, or misconduct made against bishops in the U.S. which launched in March 2020. The allegations are fielded and forwarded to the metropolitan archbishop, where they are assessed.

While praising implementation of the reporting service, Healy recommended it be audited as well “to ensure all matters are being handled according to proper standards.”

Regarding the McCarrick Report, which was published in November 2020, she noted its revelations of “systemic reporting failures,” “manipulation by offenders,” “instituting fraternal correction,” and “the handling of anonymous reports.”

 

She stated that the review board did not support the “metropolitan model” of Vos Estis, the process by which accusations against bishops are sent to their metropolitans. Yet, she added, “we are grateful that in the case of McCarrick, the process initiated by the Archdiocese of New York worked. What we have in place works.”


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