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The resolve of the US bishops

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The resolve of the US bishops

Nov. 16, 2018

Bishop Michael Barber, S.J.

 All the Catholic bishops of the USA meet twice a year. We just concluded our November meeting, during which we, as a body, had planned to vote on specific “Action Steps” to purify the Church following the Cardinal McCarrick scandal, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, and the Archbishop Vigano revelations.  For weeks each of us bishops has been hearing from you, our people, that we need “action, not just prayers” and we were prepared to do just that.

 As our meeting opened, Cardinal DiNardo of Houston, our president, told us he had been instructed by the Holy See hours earlier, that we were NOT to hold a vote on our two most important proposals: 1. A lay-led “National Review Commission” to review complaints of misbehavior or ‘dereliction of duty’ by bishops. 2. A ‘Protocol’ on standards of conduct for bishops.

The Vatican told us to wait until the February 2019 meeting in Rome of presidents of episcopal conferences to discuss the issue with the Pope and the Roman Curia. 

Cardinal DiNardo said he was “disappointed” in the Vatican’s decision. I think that was an understatement. Most of us bishops were more than disappointed. We were shocked. We were caught in the tension between our profession of loyalty to the Pope, the successor of St. Peter, AND our duty to be good and faithful shepherds of the flocks committed to our care.

So we responded with respect. We did not hold the votes. But we also did everything we could to show a full and strong consensus of the body of bishops to take action.  We asked Cardinal DiNardo to bring to the Vatican our resolve to move as quickly as possible on five action steps:

1. A process for investigating complaints against bishops reported through a third-party compliance hotline. We will complete a proposal for a single national lay commission and a proposal for a national network relying upon the established diocesan review boards, with their lay expertise, to be overseen by the metropolitan or senior suffragan.

2. Finalizing the Standards of Accountability for Bishops.

3. Finalizing the Protocol for Removed Bishops.

4. Studying national guidelines for the publication of lists of names of those clerics facing substantiated claims of abuse.

5. Supporting the fair and timely completion of the various investigations into the situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick and publication of their results. We are grateful for the Holy See’s Statement of October 6 in this regard.

I left the six day meeting feeling we US bishops were more united and determined than ever to lead the way in the protection of minors, and the purification of the church from the scandal of sexual abuse.  It’s not just an “American problem”.  Look at Chile, Ireland, Australia, and now Germany. My personal opinion is that the US bishops are ahead of the curve on the issue, and that the Holy See doesn’t want us to get too far ahead of the rest of the Church. On the other hand, I believe other countries are looking for us to lead - since we were the first to come up with the “Charter for Protection of Minors” in 2002.  Which has been very effective. Of all the hundreds of complaints of abuse mentioned in the Pennsylvania report, which stretched back decades, only two priests from the seven dioceses were identified as having offended since 2002. The Charter is working.

One last thing. I have attended ten plenary sessions of the 250-300 US bishops since being installed in Oakland. At each meeting, the first address is given by the Papal Nuncio to the United States, the Holy Father’s personal representative.  At every meeting all the bishops stood and applauded the Nuncio at the beginning and end of his speech.  This time no one stood.