Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Members of the National Review Board see their work as one way to continue challenging the U.S. bishops “not to back down” from efforts to improve accountability in responding to clergy sexual abuse, said board chairman Francesco Cesareo.

“This is a moment of opportunity and it is not a moment to be wasted. If we don’t get it right this time we may not get a third chance to really grapple with this issue,” Cesareo told Catholic News Service after delivering a report from the board Nov. 13 during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall general assembly in Baltimore.

“They see this as a moment whereby we can potentially have a cultural shift and change,” he said of the all-lay board, which the bishops established in 2002 to oversee compliance with the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

The report offered a series of recommendations, including a call to review diocesan and seminary files, archives and clergy personnel records dating to at least 1950 and to make the findings public when possible.

It also backed the USCCB proposals for a code of conduct for bishops (See Page 2) and the formation of a special commission for reviewing complaints against bishops for violating the standards.

Cesareo expressed regret that the USCCB would not be voting on the proposals during the fall assembly as originally planned.

On the eve of the fall assembly, the Vatican Congregation for Bishops asked the USCCB to not take a vote on the protocols until the presidents of the bishops’ conferences around the world meet in Rome in February.

While crediting the bishops for efforts to reduce child sexual abuse and to implement the charter, Cesareo said their response to the abuse crisis “has been incomplete.”

“Specifically, current events reveal a continued lack of transparency about past cases of abuse and the way they were handled, as well as a lack of accountability for bishops,” he said.

Cesareo cited media reports and the August Pennsylvania grand jury report that revealed how some bishops have not been “sufficiently open and transparent” about abuse by clergy and Church workers occurring in their dioceses since the 1940s.

“It is shameful that the sin of abuse was hidden and allowed to fester until uncovered by the secular world,” Cesareo said. “Even more unbearable is the fact that so many innocent children and young people suffered because of the inaction and silence of some bishops.”

He encouraged bishops to prioritize the needs of abuse survivors and their families, asking, “How many souls have been lost because of this crisis?”

“Today, the faithful and the clergy do not trust many of you. They are angry and frustrated, no longer satisfied with words and even with prayer. They seek action that signals a cultural change from the leadership of the Church. Their distrust will remain until you truly embrace the principles of openness and transparency listed in the charter,” the president of Assumption College told the bishops.

“There cannot be reconciliation without full acknowledgement of the truth,” he said.

The NRB chairman said full accountability for bishops requires steps to investigate allegations involving prelates and ensuring consequences for bishops who have not protected children and vulnerable adults.

He cited a Nov. 4 report by The Boston Globe and The Philadelphia Inquirer that outlined that bishops have been unable to police themselves when it comes to responding to abuse reports.

“At present, the NRB is unaware of any mechanism that has been utilized by the USCCB to hold culpable bishops accountable for their past action or inaction,” Cesareo said. He said possible actions the USCCB could take would be barring guilty bishops from conference membership or attendance at national meetings.

“The NRB is also unaware of any sense of meaningful fraternal correction among U.S. bishops regarding matters of abuse. The NRB calls for a revision of the Statement of Episcopal Commitment (that accompanies the charter) to include a concrete approach to fraternal correction,” he said.

The report also called for the charges made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former papal nuncio to the U.S., regarding reports of abuse allegedly committed by Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick to be thoroughly investigated by the bishops’ conference. The board also supported the USCCB call for a full investigation of Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior, he said.

Archbishop Vigano claimed in August that that Pope Francis had known for years about Archbishop McCarrick’s behavior and had done nothing about it until last summer when accusations were made about him sexually abusing boys decades ago. The archbishop, who resigned from the College of Cardinals in July, denies the claims of sexual misconduct.

“No stone must remain unturned,” Cesareo told the bishops. “Ignoring these allegations will leave a cloud of doubt over the Church, as questions will linger. To that end, the NRB supports the USCCB’s call for a full investigation, involving laity, into the many questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick.”

The report urged a thorough review of the charter and revisions in the annual audits of dioceses that measure charter compliance.

“Both the type of audit being carried out, as well as the audit instrument itself must be changed, ensuring that the audit is more than simply a compliance review,” Cesareo said. “The audit must also include a review of parishes and Catholic schools to ensure that the data they submit is accurate.”

In early November, Cesareo told CNS that the audit process was inadequate and that a “loophole” allowed dioceses to limit the information that is shared, forcing third-party auditors to make judgments “when things are not exactly clear.” The charter, he said then, also allows bishops to respond that they are “doing minimally what the audit requires.”

After Cesareo’s presentation, bishops discussed it with him for nearly an hour, asking about the recommendations and offering suggestions to fellow bishops how they have been able to implement some aspects of the report in their diocese.

Several bishops agreed that the audit process could be improved and that they must cooperate with law enforcement investigations into how abuse was handled in dioceses.

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Bishops examine ‘standards of accountability’ at meeting

Must conform to Church law before being approved

Mark Pattison,  Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — A series of standards of episcopal accountability for bishops was formally unveiled Nov. 13 at the fall general meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.

The standards will not be voted on during the bishops’ meeting. A Vatican intervention announced Nov. 12 asked the bishops to delay approval of any elements of their proposals to strengthen the USCCB’s policies on clergy sex abuse until they can be reviewed for their conformity to canon law and until after the February meeting at the Vatican for presidents of bishops’ conferences worldwide.

When the standards do come up for a vote, they would require a yes vote from two-thirds of the USCCB membership.

“In our dioceses there already exist codes of conduct,” said Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. “In light of that, the focus became on how to build additional policy and best practices to hold ourselves accountable.”

There are seven standards, which deal with: diocesan codes of conduct; protection of children and young people; sexual misconduct with an adult by a bishop; sexual harassment of an adult by a bishop; responding to allegations of sexual abuse of minors, or of sexual misconduct with or harassment of adults by priests or deacons; reporting and resolving complaints against bishops; and further commitments to ensure integrity.

There also is an acknowledgment for each bishop to sign, according to a copy of the proposed standards obtained by Catholic News Service.

“As a bishop, I am called to imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd, as closely as possible — especially his humility. I am called to be in the midst of my people as one who serves,” it says. “Therefore, it is my solemn pledge to follow these standards … and to explore continually and engage additional means that will protect the people of God and allow the Gospel to be preached with integrity.”

The acknowledgment concludes: “I ask that all the faithful hold me to this pledge and to pray for me.”

“Power, prestige and honors cannot be the desires of a bishop; rather, he must do what is right and what will lead others to salvation,” the proposed standards say. “The effects of the abuse of power, especially in sexual matters, have come more and more to light. We acknowledge that some bishops have failed to stop such abuse, or to respond properly to such claims, by what they have done or failed to do.”

“In our codes of conduct, if not already clearly stated, we will make clear that the code applies to the bishop of the diocese or eparchy,” the proposed standards say.

It adds, “The principles and standards of the ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People’ apply to bishops as well as to priests and deacons.”

The standards commit bishops to “continue to reach out to the victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their families in support of their spiritual and emotional well-being. Realizing that we might not always be the best suited to offer such care, we will make every effort to help victims/survivors find the care and healing they need.”

Sexual misconduct with an adult by a bishop, the proposed document says, “is gravely sinful; it could also be a canonical or civil crime. … Sins against the Sixth Commandment strike at the very dignity of a person and have absolutely no place in the life of a minister, most especially one who is a bishop.

“There can be no ‘double life,’ no ‘special circumstances,’ no ‘secret life’ that frees a bishop from practicing chastity. The bishop is called to chastity and continence,” it adds. 

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Discussing abuse protocols ‘productive,’ cardinal says

Julie Asher Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A Vatican request that the U.S. bishops postpone voting on several proposals to address abuse was a disappointment but they “quickly took a deep breath” and realized they could still have a productive discussion about the measures, said New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan.

“It’s a big thing and I don’t mind telling you … that from what I’ve heard my brothers say, there was a sense of disappointment and we can’t deny that,” the cardinal said in a Nov. 13 interview with host Msgr. Jim Vlaun during “Conversation with Cardinal Dolan” on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel.

“I think there was a momentum going, and we looked forward to a fruitful week, and now there’s a little frustration,” the cardinal told the priest.

“However, I think the bishops quickly took a deep breath and said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s still doesn’t keep us from talking about it,’” Cardinal Dolan continued. “That still doesn’t keep us from giving Cardinal DiNardo a sound sense of direction as to where we should go and almost to deputize him to bring that to Rome at the February meeting.”

He was referring to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who announced the Vatican’s request as the bishops’ Nov. 12-14 annual meeting opened in Baltimore.

The Congregation for Bishops requested that no vote be taken on proposals such as standards of episcopal accountability and conduct and the formation of a special commission for review of complaints against bishops for violations of the standards.

They are among steps developed by the USCCB Administrative Committee in September in response to the firestorm that has emerged since June over how the bishops handled reports of wayward priests.

Cardinal Dolan told Msgr. Vlaun that, despite the vote delay, he felt the bishops’ discussion on the proposals would still be “pretty productive.”

“I think we bishops in the United States keep reminding ourselves, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, we are Catholic. We are members of the Church universal and we are a small segment of the Church universal,’” the cardinal said. “We know here in the United States, this is not just a Catholic problem. We’re talking about the sexual abuse of minors. It is a problem in every religion, every organization, every family, every institution, every school.”

“It is not just a Catholic problem. … Nor is it just an American problem. Now, we know that it’s throughout the world,” Cardinal Dolan added. “So I think what the Holy Father is saying is, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t want you to get too far ahead here. We appreciate what you’re doing in the United States, but we want you to be part of the universal discussion.’”

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Psychologist advises bishops: Meet victims face to face

Rhina Guidos, Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Heather Banis, victim assistance coordinator for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, told bishops gathered Nov. 13 for the second day of their annual fall meeting in Baltimore that helping victims and survivors of child sex abuse heal is a journey and one that involves showing them repeated trustworthiness.

It begins with listening, understanding, offering responses showing that they, the victim-survivors, are believed, she said.

Banis, a trauma psychologist, addressed the bishops as they deal with the current clergy sex abuse crisis and plan how to move forward.

Using a PowerPoint presentation, she told bishops that abuse by clergy is a betrayal trauma, effects of which are compounded by secrecy, denial and cover-up.

She told bishops to begin the journey toward healing by believing those who come forward with allegations, acknowledging the victim-survivor, offering counseling and support right away. She also told them to remove accused priests from ministry right away, pending the outcome of an investigation. “Demonstrate trustworthiness again and again,” she said.

Much of what she said is already practiced by the Church in the United States in cases of suspected abuse. She advised bishops to post the names of credibly or plausibly accused clergy. She also told bishops to be accessible to victim-survivors, to pray for them at every Mass, to talk about it during homilies, hold healing liturgies, to foster a culture of outreach and support, and provide sacred spaces and places.

Be victim-centric, she said. And yet each person will need something different, so being flexible and open to what the victim-survivor needs is crucial, she said.

She also told them to remember, “They were children and they were betrayed.”

Healing doesn’t happen overnight, she said, or come with a settlement, or even with multiple sessions with a psychologist.

“It’s a journey,” she said. “We need to prepare ourselves for listening deeply for understanding.”

She told the bishops to dedicate time to meeting with and listening to “victim-survivors” face to face.

“We learn from hearing their sacred stories, and we honor them in those stories, but it’s very different when you (bishops) do it,” she said. “The power of that exchange can be remarkable.”

By listening, “you bring victim-survivors out of silence,” she said. A lot of what the Church is practicing is working, she said.

“It is working. The numbers tell us that,” she said. “But it’s working because of vigilance. It’s working because we’re paying attention. We have to stay alert and vigilant.”