'Continued Vigilance' Urged for U.S. Bishops to Stop Abuse

Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, pictured at last year's spring meeting in New Orleans. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

When the U.S. bishops opened their spring general assembly in St. Louis June 10, the Catholic Church was already in the day's news with the announcement from the Vatican about a new process for holding bishops accountable for protecting children from abuse.

The bishops did not mention the new procedures during the opening session of their gathering, but when some of them were asked about it by reporters during a midday news conference, they said they supported the Vatican's decision.

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Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was noticeably not at the U.S. bishops meeting because his commission had been meeting with Pope Francis about the need for greater accountability of bishops in dealing with clerical abuse cases.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops welcomed the new procedure and would cooperate with it.

"We have a long track record of wanting to help the bishops be transparent" in how they follow through with the charter, he said, referring to the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," first adopted by the U.S. bishops in 2002 and revised in 2005 and 2011.

He said the bishops take seriously the importance of "creating a safe environment," and that having another framework in place to do that is "a high priority for the church."

The archbishop stressed that clergy sexual abuse and its impact has been "a painful experience" and a "learning one for the church worldwide."

Similar comments were made during the day's morning session when Francesco Cesareo, chair of the National Review Board, gave his report.

He told the bishops that the Catholic Church "has benefited from your transparency and resilience" in responding to the abuse crisis.

But even though progress has been made, he said, there is no room for complacency. He stressed the need for continued vigilance, particularly since the 2014 audit, examining how dioceses are protecting children from abuse and reporting it, contained 37 allegations of clergy abuse from current minors, six of which have been confirmed. He also said there were approximately 600 allegations from years past.

The review board chair said the "persistence of allegations" raises questions for the bishops to consider about the audit and its effectiveness in making sure children are protected. He also said there are aspects of the charter that need revision, particularly the need to require parish audits, pointing out that most abuse occurs at the parish level.

Cesareo said one diocese and five eparchies did not participate in the diocesan audit last year, which he said was an improvement from the previous year. He also noted that three of the eparchies that did not take part last year will do so this year. "The National Review Board anticipates the day when all dioceses and eparchies participate in the audit," he added.

Cesareo also urged the bishops to be a model to other groups in preventing and responding to abuse and in providing an example of "what it means to create and nurture a culture of safety for our children."

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