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Greg ErlandsonJune 07, 2019
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Va., center, listens to a speaker Nov. 14, 2018 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. At last year's meeting, reforms regarding the investigation of bishops were discussed but not voted on at the request of the Vatican. When the bishops gather in Baltimore June 11-14 they will have major decisions to make that may determine how quickly they are able to rebuild trust with their fellow Catholics following a series of recent exposes, allegations and scandals regarding bishops themselves.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When the bishops gather in Baltimore June 11-14, their meeting will be anything but pro forma.

Instead, they will have some major decisions to make that may determine how quickly they are able to rebuild trust with their fellow Catholics following a series of recent exposes, allegations and scandals regarding bishops themselves.

"This is going to be a working meeting," said one observer, implying the likelihood of vigorous discussion and debate as the bishops seek to approve a series of proposals dealing with the investigation of abuse or cover-up of abuse by bishops.

The attention of the bishops and the dozens of news media who will be following the proceedings will be focused on four action items.

The most important of these, and perhaps the one most likely to be debated, concerns the directives for the implementation of the recent "motu proprio," or church law, issued by Pope Francis and governing complaints directed against clergy or church leaders regarding the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons.

The "motu proprio," known by its Latin title "Vos estis lux mundi" ("You are the light of the world"), grew out of the extraordinary gathering of the presidents of the world's bishops' conferences Feb. 21-24 in Rome. The "motu proprio" modified existing church law to bolster laws regarding clergy sexual abuse, including protection for whistleblowers and condemnation of any sort of cover-ups of such abuse.

While many of the directives of the "motu proprio" regarding clergy have already been implemented in the United States with its 2002 "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," the action items before the bishops concern allegations of abuse or negligence on the part of bishops. Bishops were not explicitly included in the charter because authority over the bishops and their discipline rests with the pope himself.

The new laws promulgated by Pope Francis, however, calls for a "public, stable and easily accessible" reporting system for such allegations, the use of "proven experts from among the laity" to investigate such allegations, and the oversight of the metropolitan (another term for archbishop) to direct such investigations in his province.

At the November meeting of the U.S. bishops, reforms regarding the investigation of bishops were discussed but not voted on at the request of the Vatican. One subject of debate and discussion at that meeting concerned some sort of "special commission" that would be an independent means to receive and investigate allegations made against bishops.

The "motu proprio" issued by Pope Francis last month makes clear, however, that the primary responsibility for any such investigation lies with the metropolitan archbishop for the province, who in turn reports his findings to the pope. In the case of a metropolitan being accused, the responsibility falls to the senior bishop in that province.

An example of this most recently was Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori's investigation of allegations of sexual and financial improprieties made against Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, former bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. Archbishop Lori was the responsible metropolitan who in turn brought in a team of five experts to conduct a five-month-long investigation, ultimately affirming that the allegations were credible and passing along the results of the investigation to the Vatican.

This investigation was begun prior to the issuance of the "motu proprio," but it was in some ways a textbook case of how such an investigation is to be handled.

However, a subsequent report by The Washington Post, which received copies of the final report, an earlier draft of the report and other documentation by an unnamed source, also points out the limitations of the metropolitan option. According to the documents received by the Post, the final report edited out the names of prelates who had received financial gifts from Bishop Bransfield, including Archbishop Lori.

After the Post story, a spokesman for Archbishop Lori said his thought was that identifying the individuals who received the gifts was a "distraction."

In hindsight, his spokesman explained, the archbishop can see how not sharing this information could be seen as protecting those whose judgment could have been compromised by such gifts. Archbishop Lori subsequently forwarded the names to the Holy See.

While the "motu proprio" directs a metropolitan who has a conflict of interest to recuse himself, the incident has raised long-standing concerns about "bishops investigating bishops."

The challenge for the U.S. bishops next week will be to find a way to convince themselves and their people that there are enough safeguards in the document to ensure that justice will be done in a relatively open and transparent manner.

In the case of Archbishop Lori, who already instituted many of the reforms to be discussed in his archdiocese last January, he established a third-party reporting system in which allegations against any bishop in his archdiocese are first reviewed by two retired judges. They in turn determine whether the allegations appear to warrant further investigation and whether civil as well as church authorities should be notified.

How to implement safeguards on a national level that will apply to all 32 metropolitans, that will conform to the intentions of the pope's "motu proprio" and that will provide some sort of assurance that the bishops are serious about policing their own is the challenge they will face in Baltimore.

In addition to the directive for implementation of the "motu proprio", the bishops also will vote on a document entitled "Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments." The document acknowledges the outrage of Catholics over reported failings by bishops. The bishops promise to hold themselves accountable to the commitments of the Charter, which affirms a zero-tolerance policy, and that any codes of conduct in their respective dioceses regarding clergy apply to themselves as well.

It also promises an "independent, third-party entity" through which reports of sexual misconduct with a child or an adult by any cleric, including a bishop, can be reported.

A third, and relatively uncontroversial, proposal to be voted on is a "protocol regarding available non-penal restrictions on bishops." This outlines what canonical options are available to bishops when a now-retired bishop resigned or is removed "due to sexual misconduct with adults or grave negligence of office, or where subsequent to his resignation he was found to have so acted or failed to act."

At the November meeting when this protocol was first discussed, at least two bishops -- Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis and Bishop Steven R. Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyoming -- spoke of challenges they faced regarding the status of their predecessors. The protocol outlines a series of options allowing the current bishop to restrict the activities of the retired bishop. The current bishop will also make any reports required to law enforcement.

The most striking element of the protocol is that the president of the bishops' conference would now have the authority to ban a bishop who was retired due to misconduct or negligence from attending any plenary assembly or serve on any body of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bishops also will discuss a fourth proposal, which will define what an independent third-party reporting system will look like, how it will function in terms of notifying the metropolitan, and who will maintain it.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Pitman
4 years 10 months ago

Only a bold move will regain trust — all the bishops should offer their resignations to the pope. He should consult with local parishes and reappoint dome and appoint new people. Apologies and prayers mean nothing from a group that hid predators, or were aware that others were hiding them

Nora Bolcon
4 years 10 months ago

The only bold move that will work is ordaining women to priesthood now and making women bishops and cardinals now. Whoever among the bishops and cardinals does not like this change in law to bring justice to our church can be the first bishops and cardinals the Pope can replace with qualified women. There are ample qualified women the Pope could immediately ordain to all levels our hierarchy.

Without parity between the genders in our church, once the magnifying glass dips, and everyone starts to relax, all these rules will start to get ignored.

Out of all the possible solutions to the abuse crisis and supposed vocations crisis . . Optional celibacy, dumping all the gay priests, there is only one choice that has any evidence it would actually make a difference to both issues, and that is ordaining women equally to men immediately, and that may just be the reason our Pope isn't picking that choice and won't talk about it

There exists nothing in the gospel to indicate that Christ wants women kept from anything men have been allowed in our church and his command to all apostles, and us, is to above all else love God and to prove that love by treating everyone else the same as we would want to be treated with no exceptions for bishops and their treatment of women. Their misogyny in the form of upholding discrimination in our ordination requirements is sin. It has brought this sex abuse crisis and vocation crisis down on all our heads like burning coals. We laity are just as guilty while we allow the hate to continue in the form of this bias against women.

J. Calpezzo
4 years 10 months ago

If they want to rebuild trust, every Bishop should offer his resignation immediately. Those that balk should be removed at once by Pope Francis. And then there is that "priest in good standing," Roger Mahony in L.A. that still wear the Red Hat. He should live out his life in the Vatican dungeon, after he is defrocked.

Mike Houlihan
4 years 10 months ago

I think the mass resignations of the American bishops would be a colossal waste of time. Who is going to replace them? This would be a classic instance of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Here's what might help. They ought to censure Thomas Tobin of Providence if not for bigotry then for stupidity; and they -- and all of the clergy -- ought to take a collective vow of silence, vowing for at least a year not to teach, speak, write, tweet or preach about human sexuality. There is simply nothing they can say about human sexuality, and utterly nothing they should try to say. Instead, they should read, study, and -- most of all -- listen to the lived experience of women and men from across the spectrum of human sexuality. If they are not humbled and changed by the experience, then they should resign -- or be fired by their people.

Vincent Blocker
4 years 10 months ago

I have to agree with the first two comments above, but I would go further. I am following the story about the former bishop of Wheeling and Charleston and the Rossi case in Texas. With these cases on top of everything else that's been exposed over the last 30 years, it's clear Catholic bishops as a group should no longer play the role in governance they have for a very long time. It's unrealistic to think this flow of utter betrayal of the church's ostensible values, inflicting huge costs financial, human, moral, will stop as long as the same structures and the same kinds of people remain in place. It just isn't reasonable to believe otherwise. What possible defense is there for the behavior of the bishop of Wheeling and Charleston and the abject failure of the hierarchy to stop it? Yes, let the bishops resign en masse. But don't re-appoint any of them (regardless of their individual merits) and don't hesitate to call a convention of the church, not dominated by clergy, to rewrite the rules of governance without bishops in the saddle.

4 years 10 months ago

Trust is broken. It can’t be rebuilt. Nor should it be. Bishops resign. Lay leaders, mostly women, should assume pastoral and administrative authority. Clericalism is the problem and clerics can’t solve it.

4 years 10 months ago

"In hindsight, [Lori's] spokesman explained, the archbishop can see how not sharing this information could be seen as protecting those whose judgment could have been compromised by such gifts. Archbishop Lori subsequently forwarded the names to the Holy See."

And only then decided to refund the money to the diocese.

More documents will not change this culture. They have no trust with each other because so many of them have been caught hiding things from each other. There is no vulnerability, no place to admit that "I, I personally have messed up here and I need help to clean it up." They are clothed in the stink of lawyers and PR professionals, more concerned with their barns and bank balances than drawing people into encounter with the Living Lord.

Leave the monarchical bishop model on the dust heap of history. Find a new way of collaboration which recognizes the God-given human dignity of each person. And if each bishop cannot find that courage, then find worthy successors to the apostle to the apostles.

Kemper Wilkins
4 years 10 months ago

More Twaddle. These guys have squandered their credibility. Who actually trusts them? The foxes are guarding the hen house.

John Dowling
4 years 10 months ago

Don't forget all the silent priests, who all damn well knew just as the bishops, then they all preach from the pulpit, warning the followers how grave the sin is to cover up sins, the very sins the priests/bishops were covering up themselves.
The Only reason the church is Now addressing this worldwide issue, is because the number of cases were so overwhelming, they couldn't cover them up anymore!
Shame on all of them!

Kemper Wilkins
4 years 10 months ago

Yes John. Just think of any organization or job environment anywhere. In the least, people are always aware and conscious via the grapevine of what's happening. If criminal activity takes place that is commonly known and reporting it is ignored, complicity takes place. You can't tell me or anyone with a modicum of common sense that the fraternity of the clergy have been ignorant all along. It just doesn't pass the smell test.

4 years 10 months ago

Nobody. Nobody trusts them. I don't know what tne answers are but I know their moral authority is shot for at least a generation or two regardless who occupies ranks of hierarchy. There may be the occasional non-offender but they were all part of the rackett. The most they can aspire to is a hollow political influence serving only to amplify their own hypocracy.

Will Nier
4 years 10 months ago

Collection plate money must be way down. I know it is in four of the parish Churches in my city anywhere's from $19,000 to $40,000.

Vincent Gaglione
4 years 10 months ago

“The bishops also will discuss a fourth proposal, which will define what an independent third-party reporting system will look like, how it will function in terms of notifying the metropolitan, and who will maintain it.”

While reading earlier in the article about the referral to two retired judges of potential allegations against any bishop in Baltimore, my mind immediately asked whether or not the judges were “Catholic.” My mind was being quite cynical, to be honest. There are among the Catholic laity many individuals who are as equally protective of publicity issues against the Catholic church as are many Bishops. For me, an independent third-party reporting system should include at least one individual who is not Catholic, a sort of brake on those who might be overly protective of the Church and religious authority figures. That protectionism, of course, is what put us in the current crisis that we have. There is no purpose in perpetuating it.

James M.
4 years 10 months ago

Well said.

If it is a good and wise move at Lourdes to include non-Catholic physicians among those whose expert testimony is sought when an alleged miracle of healing is under review - and such a move is indeed good and wise: surely it would be at least as desirable and helpful and wise to include non-Catholics as reviewers of allegations of clerical and religious predation.

It is common knowledge that other Christian bodies have, most deplorably, also suffered from predators of this kind. Maybe. since Catholics & other Christians are tainted with the same evil, Christians of different persuasions could sit on each other’s review boards, and pool their resources, to help in the healing of all the Church bodies tainted with this corruption.

Such a move might be a very good example of ecumenism, so that if such sharing of experience were to happen, some good might come for all the tainted Churches from these horrible events.

By admitting our shared corruption, Christians of different persuasions might also grow out of the tendency to belittle each other. If it takes these great evils to get Christians to unlearn some of their baser tendencies, such as pride, chauvinism, prejudice, bigotry. unwillingness to heed each other, hardness of heart, arrogance, narcissism, etc.. We who live today have no right to poison future generations with the unChristian attitudes we have inherited. That garbage needs to stop here and now, instead of being passed on. If all Christian Churches cannot as yet be perfectly at one with each other, we can at least stop wounding each other, and seek to pray for each other & help each other in our common Christian witness.

John Chuchman
4 years 10 months ago

The Good-ole-Boys will look after each other, protect their club.

arthur mccaffrey
4 years 10 months ago

the inmates are still running the asylum. It is not the laity who have failed it is the institutional church which has failed and it needs to be dismantled. Get rid of all the bishops and cardinals and let the laity run their own church. Who needs this medieval, monarchical system, where a King in Rome tries to tell all the rest of the world how and what to believe, and his VPs act like unaccountable princes? Let's build an American Catholic Church, run by the people, for the people, of the people.

Leonard Ryer
4 years 10 months ago

Regarding "US bishops seek to rebuild trust amid sex scandal" the American bishops would do well to understand that they cannot fix this problem themselves. As a group they have not only lost the trust of the flock, they have lost their relevance. These bishops, who are supposed to teach, need to be taught. The best people to teach the irrelevant are the good and faithful laity who live their faith daily in the world and who engage fully in society as practicing Catholics. The state of the episcopacy has become one of isolation and elitism. Far removed from the everyday life of the laity, bishops lack understanding of their flock. They know neither how to engage the remaining lay people who still come to Mass, nor how to heal those who have been turned away by the actions of bishops themselves. The role of a bishop is to teach but he cannot if he is mired in irrelevance. It's time for bishops, each individually and as a group, to become students of their congregation.

Bill Mazzella
4 years 10 months ago

Like NYC building inspectors when you fire them all they are replaced with equally corrupt people. People like Chaput still insist that the "defining issue of our times" is abortion not the corruption of the bishops who allowed children to be brutalized most shamefully. The defining issue with bishops is they deride the poverty of Jesus and parade themselves with long robes and fancy attire. Plus lavish Garden Parties. Little has changed since Cardinal Hayes rebuffed the ambitious up and coming Francis Spellman in seeking the haunts of the super rich. Cardinal Law's Lawn Party was De rigueur for the well heeled for years. This is why they hate Francis who chooses to live humbly. They love their trimmings. All those Cardinals especially in Rome with their cavernous apartments. Yet they continue to support Trump and says its for abortion while they despise poverty and the "captives" notwithstanding that "freeing the captives" is the defining issue of followers of Jesus. Timothy Dolan likes to quote Dorothy Day saying that we should stick with the hierarchy since they are "our whores," while he continues to prostitute the faith.

We have made the first step by de-sacralizing them. They must be constantly challenged to wash the feet of the people of God.

Craig B. Mckee
4 years 10 months ago

"Archbishop Lori was the responsible metropolitan who in turn brought in a team of five experts to conduct a five-month-long investigation, ultimately affirming that the allegations were credible and passing along the results of the investigation to the Vatican."

So WHAT did Lori actually DO?
Hire a committee, sign and forward their report upstairs...
And his boss in Rome thinks THAT is gonna restore trust here in America?

James M.
4 years 10 months ago

“After the Post story, a spokesman for Archbishop Lori said his thought was that identifying the individuals who received the gifts was a "distraction."

In hindsight, his spokesman explained, the archbishop can see how not sharing this information could be seen as protecting those whose judgment could have been compromised by such gifts. Archbishop Lori subsequently forwarded the names to the Holy See.”

Seriously ? If it takes less than 60 seconds for this poster to see how gifts to such people from such people could be ethically problematic - why is that realisation not blindingly obvious to a bishop ? I thought bishops occupied their position in the Church because they were (so to put it) wiser, more virtuous, better Christians, than the rest of us. They should be the very best Christians of the very best Christians: if not quite Saints, certainly Saints-in-the-making. If bishops are not men of the highest and most incorruptible integrity, should they even be considered for the episcopate ?

It is a very great compliment to them, that, after all that has happened & been revealed, people still expect them to behave with integrity. The bishops cannot afford to take such goodwill for granted.

It is a fundamental principle of English Common Law, not only that justice must be done, but also that it must be seen to be done. I don’t think ecclesiastical law includes that principle, and I think it needs to include it.

A Church, of all bodies on Earth, ought to be devoted to the principle: “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall”. Is the CC devoted to that insight & principle ?

Annette Magjuka
4 years 10 months ago

Build trust? No. Time's up on that. These criminals are still insisting that they can come up with their own ideas of how to police themselves. Lay boards? I have zero confidence that all of the documents are still around to be used as evidence. The cover-ups have so many layers, so many iterations. These criminals have betrayed the laity. They continued to make judgments and demands of the parishioners while engaging in the most foul, disturbing, horrific kinds of crimes against children and innocents. Others covered up these heinous crimes. No Catholic of conscience can be associated in any way with these vile actions. This cannot be fixed. These criminals are no longer fit for their roles. Period. We cannot trust any of them. We cannot let them near our children. We cannot leave our children out of our sight when we are at a Catholic Church. Think how pathetic this is. Think of the betrayal we all feel. Bishops, priests! It is not about YOU! It is about those you have abused and betrayed. Where is the humility? The prostrating yourselves in shame? I see lots of meetings and conversations about how to get YOUR lives back to "normal." There is no more "normal." You have broken the spirits of your flock. We are mourning so much because of you. Stop talking! Stop meeting! We do not trust you. Period.

John Barbieri
4 years 10 months ago

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Why would anyone who is rational trust the bishops now or in the future? The bishops and the clergy have preyed on the laity. How do they plan to restore trust? They seem to be saying that from now on they will refrain from criminality.”Fool us once, shame on them. Fool us twice, shame on us.”

Craig B. Mckee
4 years 10 months ago

Nice to see that NY's Timothy Dolan is doing his part to regain trust:

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