Albany bishop says laypeople should investigate misconduct by U.S. bishops

In this 2015 file photo, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, N.Y., is seen at the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. He was one of several bishops who joined 300 Hispanic Catholic lay leaders at the Region II encuentro June 22-24 in Albany. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) 

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, N.Y., said today that laypeople, not bishops, should lead inquiries into allegations of misconduct by U.S. bishops. Bishop Scharfenberger was responding to an idea advanced by Cardinal Donald Wuerl in an interview published on Aug. 6 by The National Catholic Reporter. Cardinal Wuerl suggested that the U.S. bishops might create a commission of bishops to investigate rumors of sexual misconduct by other bishops, passing concerns on to a Vatican office.

“Would we have some sort of a panel, a board, of bishops...where we would take it upon ourselves, or a number of bishops would be deputed, to ask about those rumors?” the Washington archbishop asked. “It seems to me that’s one possibility, that there would be some way for the bishops, and that would mean working through our conference...to be able to address the question of sustained rumors,” Cardinal Wuerl said. He added that U.S. bishops could not wait until their November general meeting to find solutions to address the fall out from allegations against his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick. The former cardinal, who was removed from public ministry and later resigned from the College of Cardinals, is accused of sexual assault and harassment.

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Bishop Edward Scharfenberger said, “we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer.”

Reacting to Cardinal Wuerl’s interview in a statement, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger said, “we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer.”

“To have credibility, a panel would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised,” he said.

Bishop Scharfenberger has been vocal in encouraging victims of sexual harassment and assault by any church official to come forward. He publicly supported a priest in his diocese, the Rev. Desmond Rossi, who accused Archbishop McCarrick of harassing him when he was a seminarian.

“Our laypeople are not only willing to take on this much-needed role, but they are eager to help us make lasting reforms that will restore a level of trust that has been shattered yet again,” Bishop Scharfenberger said. “In speaking with them, we all hear their passion for our universal Church, their devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and their hunger for the truth. They are essential to the solution we seek.”

[Explore America's in-depth coverage of Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church.]

Bishop Scharfenberger said a commission should be “led by well-respected, faithful lay leaders who are beyond reproach, people whose role on such a panel will not serve to benefit them financially, politically or personally.”

“These will be people with a deep understanding of the Catholic faith,” he added, “but without an axe to grind or an agenda to push. It will not be easy, but it will be worth every ounce of effort, energy, and candor we can muster.”

Critics have noted that guidelines adopted by U.S. bishops in 2002 for dealing with allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by priests did not include bishops. Those guidelines also do not cover allegations of harassment or sexual assault by church leaders against adults.

Cardinal Wuerl defended the guidelines, known informally as the Dallas Charter, saying they have been effective—but he conceded that now the time has come to consider how to regulate bishops.

“The Charter is working,” the cardinal told N.C.R. “And the instances of child abuse have dropped dramatically, but even more importantly, the whole protection of children within our Catholic institutions has manifested a wonderful commitment on our part. We need to be able to do the same thing now for bishops.”

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William Wilson
4 months 1 week ago

Yes, Cardinal Wuerl, let’s have the foxes investigate the henhouse. That will certainly give the laity a lot of confidence in the process.

Tom Cathooter
4 months 1 week ago

This bishop wrote a letter to his clergy about the abuse on Friday
On Saturday one of his priests homily related how nice the Cardinal was to him.

James Haraldson
4 months 1 week ago

And what exactly does one thing have to do with the other?

MICHAEL GRIFFIN
4 months 1 week ago

You are absolutely right. Cardinal Wuerl suggests a hierarchical solution that the Cardinal prefers, not the scandalized, distrustful, skeptical public.
While the discussion about the pros and cons of various options for investigation is very good, one thing is certain. The hierarchical Church investigating itself will have no credibility with anyone.

Hilary Hutchinson
4 months 1 week ago

You're good, William, and so right about this one. Does the laity have ANY confidence left?

Carol Goodson
4 months 1 week ago

He's right: we can no longer trust the Bishops to police themselves, which is very, very sad! Jesus, save us from these bad shepherds!

THE CHRISTOFFERSONS
4 months 1 week ago

Lay initiative in this area is a good idea, and should also include the role of bishops in their fiduciary responsibilities over the very structures and practices designed to protect the vulnerable. Such a role inclusion can be carried out by the laity under their own initiative under Francis' motu proprio "Like a Loving Mother".

Chris Lochner
4 months 1 week ago

It begins with people of TRUE faith like Bishop Scharfenberger. The Church can be reclaimed from the false prophets but it will take time and the involvement of the laity. Could we be noting the actions of the Holy Sprit here? I wonder.

Peter Schwimer
4 months 1 week ago

That's been the problem with the entire process from beginning to end. In the real world the bishops would have recused themselves years ago.

Tom Cathooter
4 months 1 week ago

The laity? The “honorable laity” in my parish in his diocese are the secretive group who sit by themselves at a special table during hospitality. The priest or clergy rush to that table ignoring the other parishioners or giving a quick hi. This select group is pander to by the clergy. They would be the last ones I’d talk to. The pastor, the deacon, are buddy buddy with pastoral council, who would be the selected laity, as they & their family & friends always are .
Bishop Scharfenberger has a laity advisor. Guess whose wife’s picture was in a recent brochure & son mentioned in the diocese publication?
If you work for the diocese there are perks.
And we’re to trust the selected laity. More politics.

Tom Cathooter
4 months 1 week ago

The laity? The “honorable laity” in my parish in his diocese are the secretive group who sit by themselves at a special table during hospitality. The priest or clergy rush to that table ignoring the other parishioners or giving a quick hi. This select group is pander to by the clergy. They would be the last ones I’d talk to. The pastor, the deacon, are buddy buddy with pastoral council, who would be the selected laity, as they & their family & friends always are .
Bishop Scharfenberger has a laity advisor. Guess whose wife’s picture was in a recent brochure & son mentioned in the diocese publication?
If you work for the diocese there are perks.
And we’re to trust the selected laity. More politics.

sheila gray
4 months 1 week ago

Good idea. Here’s another one... Have Survivors on these panels. Survivors must lead the way, or this is just another “idea”. Survivors would know in about half an hour.

James Haraldson
4 months 1 week ago

Should they be actual survivors or those who milked the system to obtain full payment for a new house?

Hilary Hutchinson
4 months 1 week ago

James, I think you're being very cynical. I think the survivors have been thoroughly vetted and scrutinized. Read a few books about what they go through to get their cases verified. There may be a couple fakes, but I bet it's only a few.

Hilary Hutchinson
4 months 1 week ago

Sheila, I really like your idea to involve the survivors. Who better to oversee the bishops?

Susan Liang
4 months 1 week ago

Interesting. A lay jury would do. Juries are pretty honorable. So it would have to be a prosecution by the government, not the church.

James Haraldson
4 months 1 week ago

Oh sure. Fanatical anti-Catholic bigots can never be wrong when it comes to finding fault with anything connected to the Catholic Church. Certainly. By the way. The Brooklyn Bridge is still for sale.

Hilary Hutchinson
4 months 1 week ago

Tom - this sounds more like a cult than a parish. Maybe the pastor is handcuffed by these folks because they're the ones who keep the lights on. Why don't you push for an elected pastoral council, and then run for a position yourself.

Jeannette Mulherin
4 months 1 week ago

Bishops and lay people are not law enforcement. Leave the investigating to the police.

Stuart Meisenzahl
4 months 1 week ago

Sic semper Cannon Law!

bill carson
4 months 1 week ago

Wow! Finally! An article in the Jesuit magazine with which I can agree. Those bishops cannot be trusted to turn in one of their own.

Susan Liang
4 months 1 week ago

Thank you Bishop Scharfenberger for being a light unto the feet of the faithful -- by recognizing both the appearance of impropriety and the probable conflict of interest in Bishops gathering evidence on Bishops (as it would be in the case of police gathering evidence on police).

I believe you have the humility to see that even Bishops can do wrong -- in just recognition that God is not partial, but impartial, and He knows the human heart post- "the Fall."

Will Niermeyer
4 months 1 week ago

Excellent point. A purely lay board that is responsible for all aspects of any investigation of Bishops involvement in sexual abuse or cover up. Then the information goes to the Pope.

J Brookbank
4 months 1 week ago

This seems like a good idea --- and most of us have participated in these shams in our institutional lives. Corrupt hierarchies are CORRUPT HIERARCHIES. The thought of sitting around hoping that THIS hierarchy (ANY hierarchy) would identify people who would not have loyalties to members of that hierarchy is so absurd it my stomach hurt. Powerful lay Catholics had to have known this stuff too.

Pope Francis needs to demand the resignations of every US Bishop and Cardinal. Anyone who wants his job back should be investigated through rigorous background checks conducted by non-Catholic authorities from another part of the country with victims like Marie Collins having access to the process and the full investigation resources and reports at every step of the way. Final reports should, as someone else mentioned, go straight to Pope Francis with the understanding that evidence of crimes will be pursued to the fullest extent of civil law, regardless of the Pope's assessment.

This is ALL about abuse of power by the power-wielders in this church. NOTHING will change if the power to create change is left in their hands. They cannot be trusted. They should not be trusted. They do not deserve to be trusted. The deserving here are children and seminarians and sisters and nuns and vulnerable adults.

And yes indeed that means a bunch of innocent Bishops and Cardinals are going to be swept out the door too, only to return if they are cleared.

Remember that little Catholic thing called sacrifice? You guys are
the same guys who say that gay people should sacrifice the desire for family and intimacy to get right with God. Women should sacrifice autonomy over their bodies to get right with God. American taxpayers should sacrifice access to institutions they fund if they won't get in line with your dictates. Women should sacrifice their actual SURVIVAL if they make the mistake of living where there are no non-Catholic hospitals. Children should sacrifice permanent homes if there are no heterosexual families to adopt them. Citizens should sacrifice the separation of Church and State when Archbishop Sartain decides to collect political signatures on the steps of the church after Mass. Homeless famies should sacrifice the essential comfort of being housed together because you say God would want if that way when there are two moms. All the faithful Catholics shut out of the Sacramental life of the church because they need your permission to leave a marriage.

And, my God, all of the really very ugly culture war stuff you have enabled and empowered and called for --- all the families and parsishes in conflict --- and you guys just putting YOUR heads down, ducking and covering when the going gets rough in your inner circle. It is actually breathtaking to consider how much you damage you collectively have done. And, again, my God, whoever you are, the ones who went after the sisters and the LCWR!

That is a lot of sacrifice required of others, boys. And that is a very partial list. The hypocrisy is actually breathtaking.

Get with it. YOU do the sacrificing for the sake of everyone's safety.

John Klein
4 months 1 week ago

Each diocese in America needs to establish a board composed solely of lay men and women. Possibly a layperson from each parish in a vicariate or diocese - certainly without an ax to grind or an agenda to push other than to protect all laypersons regardless of age. To be sure, the vetting process must be objectively thought out. And it should address all forms of abuse, not just sexual.

J Brookbank
4 months 1 week ago

Only if those persons are elected by the full parish. There is NO reason to trust institutional power in the RCC on these issuez

Lucie Johnson
4 months 1 week ago

Maybe this is some progress. But to me, it is all very discouraging, and seemingly unsolvable within the current hierarchical structure, and its political ramifications, very far from the spirit of the Gospel.

James Boyle
4 months 1 week ago

This comment comes from Melbourne, Australia where we've had 22 years of church-appointed laymen (lawyer) investigations of abuse allegations since the melbourne Response was established by then Archbishop, now cardinal Pell, a few weeks ahead of a national system. Not one of the hundreds of cases was reported to police by church authorities. "We advised victims that they had an unfettered right to go to police ..." - but often they were also advised in ways that actively deterred a victim - police report.
Two major public inquiries - the most recent a thorough five-year Royal Commission addressing abuse in all relevant institutions (church institutions, all schools, orphanages, sporting bodies etc) found that the two catholic church inquiry systems were seriously inadequate.
No body other than our church could be allowed to talk of an internal inquiry into criminal actions, even if conducted by supposedly independent appointees.
Inquiry into allegations of crime are properly the role of civil authorities.
The church's "leaders" need to come into the real world - acceptance of their efforts to constrain inquiry into domains they control should not be allowed to succeed.

Susan Liang
4 months 1 week ago

A tragedy for the victims. Now lay persons don't seen as independent. The civil authorities, the prosecutors, as is happening in Chile, would be best.

Crystal Watson
4 months 1 week ago

There should be an investigation by independent civil authorities, not parishioners, not clergy.

arthur mccaffrey
4 months 1 week ago

we already have lay people to investigate misconduct--they are called law enforcement officials and civil dept. of justice professionals! What we need is more proactive investigation by our local DA's office, instead of waiting for RCC VPs to notify the police. And yes, I heartily endorse the call here for victims to make up the core of such investigative bodies. I also think we need to go to lay people outside RCC in other religions and even atheists who could bring some objectivity to bear on what ails this man-made hierarchical institution that claims to be founded by Christ, tho I never read anywhere that Jesus said "go found a large multi-national corporation with HQ in Rome, and make sure all your VPs take oaths of allegiance and secrecy to the CEO........". If Smith College can put a lowly employee on administrative leave for allegedly displaying racist behavior, then why don't all these Bishops go on admin leave while their misconduct is being investigated by a panel of victims?

James Haraldson
4 months 1 week ago

I never met a layperson who was active in parish affairs who was anything less than a vicious, venomous, ignorant, passionate, anti-Catholic bigot.

Vincent Gaglione
4 months 1 week ago

If indeed WE are the Church, then the hierarchy is not more nor less than we. It is obvious to me that the decline in our pews says something about US, not just the clergy and religious, but also about the rest of US in the pews. I don’t know the mechanism. I leave it to those smarter than me. BUT, there needs to be a much more active laity in every parish, in every diocese, indeed even in the Vatican. We cannot blame the hierarchy, clergy and religious for our problems without casting some of the blame on OURSELVES. It is a mindset that is radical perhaps, but only because it upends a view of the Church that has prevailed for a thousand years.

Jeffrey Smith
4 months 1 week ago

How can we say that the Dallas Charter working when it is clear that bishops are still able to do business in the same old ways...secret pay-offs and cover-ups. For the past 10+ years, the lay ministers and employees in my diocese have been going to mandated sexual abuse trainings. As someone who works with children, I don't begrudge having to take part. It is good training for the work that I do. However, the lay people are not the problem here. It is the culture of clerical secrecy and the loopholes built into church law that still allow members of the hierarchy to walk away from their responsibilities as shepherds and avoid having to do the right thing. Just suppose the bishops of this country allow lay people to take the lead on investigations of clergy sexual abuse. What happens then? Will they listen to these lay people? Will they do what is right? If past experience is anything to go by, the laity will be ignored and they will continue to do business in the same old ways.

John Chuchman
4 months 1 week ago

Wuerl’s idea of Bishops monitoring Bishops is nonsense.

Jennifer Richard-Morrow
4 months 1 week ago

Bishop Scharfenberger Is both a canon lawyer and a member of the NYS Bar, a fact that the article left out. He knows more about this topic than many bishops. The Albany Diocese has long (even before Bishop Ed came) had a diocesan investigative board headed by laywoman attorney.

Mary Louise Hartman
4 months 1 week ago

Before Bishop Sharfenberger's idea for lay commissions takes root, I think every bishop installed before 2010 should resign. If I, as an average Catholic woman parishioner in New Jersey knew about the McCarrick situation, which I did, it is a given that his fellow bishops knew. He was protected by the clergy club and they should resign.

kimlersue@gmail.com
4 months 1 week ago

We have seen years and years of results of the Cardinals and Bishops policing themselves! Clearly THAT DID NOT WORK! How many boys and very young men have to be brutalized (sexual abuse is brutal), before we find a better way! Why have so many..Cardinal Wuerl et al..turned a blind eye? Do they or do they not, believe in God? Because no one who believes in eternal life could ignore and allow, which is what has happened.
No, Cardinal Wuerl, you have no credentials to monitor any person's safety !

kimlersue@gmail.com
4 months 1 week ago

We have seen years and years of results of the Cardinals and Bishops policing themselves! Clearly THAT DID NOT WORK! How many boys and very young men have to be brutalized (sexual abuse is brutal), before we find a better way! Why have so many..Cardinal Wuerl et al..turned a blind eye? Do they or do they not, believe in God? Because no one who believes in eternal life could ignore and allow, which is what has happened.
No, Cardinal Wuerl, you have no credentials to monitor any person's safety !

J Brookbank
4 months 1 week ago

Bishops and Cardinals -

Before you begin "managing" this into an agenda item for "November", I have something to ask of you.

Remember sacrifice?

Remember preaching that gay people should sacrifice the desire for family and intimacy to get right with God?

Remember preaching that that women should sacrifice autonomy over their bodies to get right with God?

Remember preaching that American taxpayers should sacrifice access to institutions they fund if they won't get in line with your dictates?

Remember preaching that women should sacrifice their actual SURVIVAL if they make the mistake of living where there are no non-Catholic hospitals?

Remember preaching that a Catholic Sister should be excommunicated because she supported doctors in saving a mother of four young children?

Remember preaching that children should sacrifice permanent homes and families if there are no heterosexual families to adopt them?

Remember preaching that American citizens should sacrifice the separation of Church and State when Archbishop Sartain decides to collect political signatures on the steps of the church after Mass?'

Remember preaching that homeless families should sacrifice the essential comfort of being housed together because you say God would want it that way when there are two moms?

Remember preaching that all those faithful Catholics should continue to sacrifice the Sacramental life of the church unless they get your permission to leave a bad or dangerous marriage?

Remember when you preached that Catholic families needed to sacrifice their ability to judge how many children they could provide for?

Remember all the families you told that they must accept that a Catholic funeral was sacrificed when their loved one lived in fidelity, love and mutual support for forty or fifty years with a partner of the same gender?

Remember when you told Catholic Sisters in the US that they must sacrifice and humble themselves after some of you demanded the investigation into their communities and the LCWR?

Remember all of the really very ugly culture war stuff you have enabled and empowered and called for?

Remember all the families and parishes in conflict because you are so comfortable with the idea of sacrifice?

And then here you guys are, just putting YOUR heads down, ducking and covering when the going gets rough in your inner circle.

It is actually breathtaking to consider how much you damage you collectively have done.

That is a lot of sacrifice required of others, boys. And that is a very partial list.

The hypocrisy is endless.

How about you guys spend some time thinking about what sacrifices YOU - individually, collectively - need to make.

What sacrifice do you personally, individually, collectively need to make to change this situation?

And none of this penance and prayer stuff.

Think about what you have asked have others. Think about how you told people that, if they living their Catholic faith in the right way, these sacrifices would be manageable and they would, in the end, feel good about it because God would feel good about them. Think about how you told people that, if they really loved God, they would make the sacrifice, no matter the cost. Think about all the people you encouraged to tell other people that, if they really loved God, they would make the sacrifice. Think about everything you require of others, every day, in the name of God.

And then get on with it.

Zara Brown
4 months 1 week ago

good post. thanks Good site

Danny Collins
4 months 1 week ago

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger gets it. Cardinals Wuerl, Roomie Farrell, Night Night Baby Tobin and Cupich don't. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that they have things to hide?

Paul Mclaughlin
4 months 1 week ago

It seems to me what needs to be done is find out which Bishops and Cardinals have broken their vows. That is the primary sin. Not whether they are gay or straight.

Second, they must study the culture in seminaries and during formation. Again, the question isn’t sexual preference, but have they kept their vows and does the culture promote and help those who feel the urge to engage in sex.

I was in novitiate earlier in my life, but I left because I wanted to be with women my age. I never acted on my urge, but being celibate was not the life for me.

Ok, the Church has purged some of its ranks of the most serious abusers, but it will happen again. The best place to prevent or limit it from happening again is to make seminaries are not masking or condoning sexual relations. If they are, the problem will never go away.

Thomas Severin
4 months 1 week ago

Cardinal Wuerl's suggesting a panel of bishops to address the pedophile problem among other bishops is a very strong indication that he just doesn't get it. Clericalism of the "clergy know best" brand was and is a large part of the problem. To suggest a panel of bishops to resolve the issue, not even recommending the inclusion of some lay members, implies that lay people aren't capable of addressing the problem. This is very condescending.
Laymen, like Nicholas Cafardi. who was a member of the Dallas Charter, have already demonstrated tremendous competence in addressing the real issues surrounding the scandal. Cafardi has also publicly called for an all laymen investigative board to hold bishops accountable. Appointing such a board with actual authority to bring offending bishops to public accountability, would go a long way towards diminishing the blatant clericalism that has contributed greatly to the pedophile scandal and also help restore the level of credibility of our bishops for lay people.

Paul Mclaughlin
4 months 1 week ago

100% correcto

Paul Mclaughlin
4 months 1 week ago

100% correcto

Paul Mclaughlin
4 months 1 week ago

100% correcto

Phil Little
4 months 1 week ago

Obviously it is not whether bishops or priests or laypersons are chosen to investigate allegations of clergy abuse but who chooses these persons and from what perspective they would conduct such an investigation. Obviously anyone from a group or society interested in protecting church reputation or persons connected to their groups would be compromised and limited. It is like the police investigating the police - the outcome is already determined. If the church is sincere in impartial investigations it should look to persons outside of the church with an expertise in child welfare or investigations, with an emphasis on seeking the professional support of non-catholic investigators.

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