The bishop of Albany, New York, said Monday that a commission of lay Catholics should be formed to investigate claims of abuse or misconduct made against bishops.
“What is needed now is an independent commission 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,” Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany wrote in a statement released Aug. 6.
“I think 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 added.
The statement was Bishop Scharfenberger’s second public comment on the scandal in the U.S. Church that began when the Archdiocese of New York announced June 20 that it had concluded an investigation into an allegation that then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had sexually abused a teenager, finding the claim to be “credible and substantiated.”
Since that time, media reports have detailed additional allegations, charging that McCarrick sexually abused, assaulted or coerced seminarians and young priests during his time as a bishop. McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals was eventually accepted by Pope Francis.
“Let me be clear in stating my firm conviction that this is, at heart, much more than a crisis of policies and procedures. We can — and I am confident that we will — strengthen the rules and regulations and sanctions against any trying to fly under the radar or to 'get away with' such evil and destructive behaviors. But, at its heart, this is much more than a challenge of law enforcement; it is a profoundly spiritual crisis,” the bishop wrote in a July 29 letter to priests and deacons of his diocese.
In his Aug. 6 statement, Bishop Scharfenberger wrote that “it is time for us, I believe, to call forth the talents and charisms of our lay faithful, by virtue of their baptismal priesthood. 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. 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.”
“We bishops want to rise to this challenge, which may well be our last opportunity, considering all that has happened. We must get this right. I am confident we can find a way to look outside ourselves, to put this in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and to entrust our very capable laypeople, who have stood with us through very difficult times, to help us do the right thing. We need an investigation — the scope of which is not yet defined but must be defined — and it must be timely, transparent and credible.”