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Does the election of Bishop Boyea signal essential changes?

A mild-mannered, astute shepherd, Boyea has taken seriously the clergy sexual abuse crisis and has proven a voice of credibility in responding to it while other bishops have failed to do so.

Bishop Earl A. Boyea Jr. of Lansing, Mich., lifts the Eucharist as he celebrates a Sept. 23, 2020, (CNS photo/Richard G. Lim, courtesy Catholic Healthcare International)

Bishop Earl A. Boyea was elected today as chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated life and Vocations. Bishop of Lansing since 2008, the 70-year-old was formerly a priest and auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Detroit. A longtime Church history and Scripture professor at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Boyea served briefly, from 2000-02, as rector-president of Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

A mild-mannered, astute shepherd, Boyea also has taken seriously the clergy sexual abuse crisis and has proven a voice of credibility in responding to it. At the U.S. bishops’ November 2019 fall plenary assembly — still in the wake of the abruptly and mysteriously scrapped plans to take clear action to the crisis that had evolved from public revelation that former cardinal Theodore McCarrick was a notorious sexual predator — Boyea boldly proposed that the body of bishops appeal to the Holy See for honesty and transparency regarding the preparation of the long-promised and long-awaited “McCarrick Report.”

Boyea’s proposed measure read:

Recognizing the ongoing investigation of the Holy See into the case of Archbishop McCarrick be it resolved that the bishops of the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops encourage the Holy See to release soon all the documentation that can be released consistent with canon and civil law regarding the allegations of misconduct of Archbishop McCarrick.

Some bishops were critical of such of pursuing the measure; Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne, for example, criticized Boyea’s proposal as “a statement of distrust.” The eventual failure of Boyea’s motion seemed to have received some support from Boston’s Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who at that time urged patience at the slowness of the document’s publication. The extended period of its preparation, O’Malley said, was because of “a desire and a commitment to be thorough and transparent, so as to answer people’s questions and not simply create more questions.”

But it was another year before the report, which raised more questions than it answered, was released on Nov. 10, 2020. What might have happened if the bishops had taken Boyea’s proposal more seriously?

Boyea follows Cardinal Joseph Tobin, CSsR, as chair of the clergy, religious life and vocations committee. A successor of McCarrick as current archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, Tobin showed very little interest in transparency regarding the heinous actions perpetrated by his tainted Newark predecessor, McCarrick, who was archbishop there from 1986-2000. Tobin, who in fact claimed to have heard rumors about McCarrick after his arrival in Newark in 2017, admittedly declined to investigate them in any way because he found them too “incredulous.”

Earlier this year, Tobin was appointed by Pope Francis as one of two American members of the influential Congregation for Bishops, which advises the pope on the appointments of bishops.

It seems that in his new role, Boyea can bring not only his experience as a seminary formator but also the credibility established by his attempt to seek transparency amid one of the most significant scandals to face the Church in the United States. Case after case after case after case continue to plague the Church, involving priests ordained in recent years engaged in sexual scandal (ranging from sexual abuse of minors to possession of child pornography).

And Boyea is now positioned to be a leader who could begin the necessary conversations — which few prelates seem to want to have — which must be had about the emerging and grievous defects in the current formation of Catholic priests.

Almost twenty years on from the bishops’ adoption of the Dallas Charter, it does not seem that the Church can continue to use that document as a crutch. “The Charter worked and continues to work,” now retired D.C. Cardinal Donald Wuerl boasted in a 2018 interview in the wake of the McCarrick scandals, as if that alone was the assurance we needed that the Church was responsive to the conflagration in which we found ourselves yet again. “Almost all of the cases of clergy abuse that we hear today are from a period of time prior to the Charter,” he claimed.

But that response is no longer acceptable. And, as recent news shows, it is also not true. Maybe Bishop Boyea will be able to do something about it.


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About MIchael R. Heinlein 4 Articles
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV's SimplyCatholic.com and author of a forthcoming biography of Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI.

6 Comments

  1. I have great respect for Bishop Boyea as a humble man who signs his weekly updates “+Earl” followed by “Bishop of Lansing” in the following line. I know that he will bring his virtue of humility to chairing the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated life and Vocations for the USCCB. This was a good decision on their part. His call for transparency in the case of Cardinal McCarrick should have been heeded at the time, but we all know that the Church moves slowly. Sometimes that is good; often, it is not. I trust Bishop Boyea in his humility to do the best for the Church.

    • But after all is said and done, will he follow his Lord Jesus Christ who submitted himself to crucifixion in the name of Truth? We’ll see.

      Meanwhile, all of us are asked by Christ to do nothing less.

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