Hopeful that bishops’ resolve means results

| June 20, 2019 | 0 Comments

As the bishops gathered in Baltimore last week, there were many different thoughts and emotions amid the seriousness of this last year’s events in the Church in the United States and globally. The most consistent sentiment was a deep, firm resolve to move forward to hold bishops and priests decidedly accountable for instances of sexual abuse of children or other vulnerable persons, sexual misconduct, or the mishandling of such cases. The four action items, which all passed by overwhelming majorities, expressed this resolve:

1) Establishing protocols for bishops who were removed from office or resigned their office for reasons of sexual abuse or mishandling of cases;

2) Authorizing the establishment of a national, third-party, reporting system to receive reports of abuse or misconduct by bishops in the United States;

3) Directives to implement Pope Francis’ recent “motu proprio” “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the light of the world”), a legal document which established a process to investigate accusations against bishops; and

4) A joint expression of episcopal commitment to implement all these, and especially to involve the laity as we do so.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens

Bishop Andrew Cozzens

During the meeting, one of the members of the national press asked me if I was pleased with the way things were going. My answer, “I am cautiously hopeful.” Why? Because, with the help of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, we can finally establish a defined, distinct and transparent system to address allegations against bishops. We have a system that has been effective in recent years in dealing with priest abuse and misconduct, and, as I stated clearly last fall, we needed one for bishops.

Here is how the proposed system should work: If there is an allegation that a bishop has engaged in misconduct himself or has mishandled the report of misconduct of another cleric, then any person could report this either to a national third party reporting line or directly to the metropolitan archbishop for the region. The reporting line will forward reports to a lay person designated to receive these complaints on behalf of the metropolitan archbishop of the province where the accused bishop lives. The province of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is made up of all the dioceses in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Of course, reports of illegal activity would immediately be forwarded to the relevant police. The document from the Vatican requires compliance with local laws. That is nothing new for this archdiocese. Our normal protocol with any potential crime has been both to ask the person making the report to contact the police first, and to call the police ourselves, even if the allegation is not subject to mandatory reporting requirements.

If an archbishop himself would be the subject of the accusation, the notification will go to a senior bishop in the province and to the lay person that bishop has designated to assist with these reports. In our province, this is currently the bishop of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The lay person appointed to receive these complaints will work with the archbishop or bishop to present the report to the papal nuncio (the Vatican ambassador to the United States) and to the appropriate office in Rome. If an allegation involves sexual abuse of minors, it is handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Most other allegations are handled by the Congregation for Bishops.

The Vatican has to respond as soon as possible — at the latest within 30 days — regarding the commencement of an official investigation. Then, an investigation of the accusation normally must be completed within 90 days. In this archdiocese, this proposed process would follow the pattern we now use for all our investigations, with lay investigators and lay experts making recommendations, as we do, for example, with our archdiocesan Ministerial Review Board when there is an accusation against a priest. Once completed, the investigation and the recommendations will be provided to the congregation at the Vatican, which has the authority to act.

I am hopeful that the proposed system’s direct protocols, established timelines and defined roles will result in clear accountability. I am heartened that the process involves immediate and substantial participation by lay experts. The document approved
by the bishops titled “Affirming our Episcopal Commitment” states that the bishops “are also committed, when we receive or when we are authorized to investigate such cases, to include the counsel of lay men and women, whose professional backgrounds are indispensable.” This involvement of the laity is essential for a process that is transparent and fair, and one that avoids the conflicts of interest that occurred in some previous cases, such as with former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

The stakes are high right now in the Catholic Church. This new system will be tested. Only time will allow us to see if the resolve I felt among the bishops this week translates into results. I understand why many, including victims/survivors, may remain skeptical based on what they have experienced up until now, but I believe the Holy Spirit is at work.

Based on my experience of what we have done in this archdiocese, especially using the expertise of laity, I’m hopeful this new process will bring about a new level of transparency and accountability. This is essential for the continued healing of our Church. The ultimate solution to this crisis will continue to come as we work together to purify and strengthen our Church. As we seek together to live lives accountable in holiness, we will be able to create the environment of holiness in which our Church will flourish.

Hay esperanza de que la resolución de los obispos significa resultados

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Category: Only Jesus