Another Step Forward

“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” 1 Cor 4:1-2

Journeys are not made by leaps and bounds, but by a series of steps one after another. This past week I joined the other bishops of the United States at our Spring meeting to revisit work we originally set out to accomplish at our meeting in Baltimore last November. That effort, to address evident gaps in holding bishops accountable in instances of sexual abuse of children or vulnerable adults, sexual misconduct, or the intentional mishandling of such cases, was delayed to the disappointment of many.

Since that meeting last November, Pope Francis called the presidents of the national bishops’ conferences around the world to a special meeting in Rome this past February to consider these grave issues for the entire Church and not only the United States. The result was the publication of an Apostolic Letter for the entire Church, known as a Motu Proprio, which modifies Church law (canon law). In this case, the Holy Father issued this special legislative text “on his own initiative” (in Latin, “Motu Proprio”) underscoring his concern and attentiveness to the topics addressed in the new procedural norms. It applies universally—that is, to the Catholic Church around the world. With these national and international developments in place, the bishops met again last week to finish the work we originally set out to accomplish.

What happened at our meeting? First, we renewed our Episcopal Commitments, recognizing our unique role and responsibility as bishops in ten concrete ways to serve and care for those who have been entrusted to us. Second, we approved a new, independent reporting system to provide another avenue for persons to report either sexual abuse or sexual misconduct on the part of a bishop or religious community superior, or the intentional mishandling of such cases. This new system commits to involving and utilizing lay professional experts. This supplements the other ways one may report such abuse that have already been in place.
Third, we approved a process whereby any complaint is investigated relying on lay investigators which will be identified at the provincial level by the Metropolitan Archbishops. These lay investigators will play a key role in investigating individual complaints against bishops or religious community superiors. This will help to make the process as transparent and accountable as possible.

My hope is that we’ve filled the gaps in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and can now build upon its success. The Holy Father’s Motu Proprio, the new directives, the renewed Episcopal Commitments, the third-party reporting system, and the heavy emphasis and reliance on lay expertise in the United States will bring greater accountability and strengthen the Church.

Our Church has accomplished so much in making our churches and schools definitely safer since the 2002 crisis. The statistics show this. We have also made great progress in addressing the victims and survivors of abuse, assisting with their ongoing healing. This important work both to heal and purify the Church continues so that it can shine more clearly as a light for the world, and it happens one step at a time.

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Tuesday
November 12, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph