Print Edition: March 8, 2015
Sign-up for our E-letter!
To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
BY TOM McFEELYContributing Editor
WASHINGTON — A recent clash over abuse
audits raises the question of the authority of individual bishops on the one
hand and bishops’ conferences on the other.
The National Review Board is made
up of lay people appointed by the U.S. bishops
conference. The board is responsible for overseeing annual audits of U.S. dioceses and eparchies, assessing their
compliance with the provisions of the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the
Protection of Children and Young People.
The Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., and
the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, Mass., both declined
to participate in last year’s audits.
In her foreword to the 2005 report
on the result of the audits, which was released in late March, Patricia
O’Donnell Ewers, the National Review Board chairwoman, called for “strong
fraternal correction” of Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz
and Melkite Archbishop Cyrille
Bustros over their refusal to participate.
“Though their governance authority is fully understood by the board,
nonetheless, these refusals go against all of the efforts of the Church to be
open and transparent in addressing child protection and reaching out to victims
to help with their healing.”
released a sharply worded response March 31.
“The Diocese of Lincoln has
nothing to be corrected for, since the Diocese of Lincoln is and has always
been in full compliance with all laws of the Catholic Church and with all civil
laws,” Bishop Bruskewitz said in a statement.
“Furthermore, Ewers and her Board have no authority in the Catholic Church, and
the Diocese of Lincoln does not recognize them as having any significance.”
said that it is “well known” that some National Review Board members advocate
“moral errors” like abortion and human cloning. And Ewers’ remarks in the 2005
report, he said, “seem to confirm the suspicion that the members of her board
are unfamiliar with Catholic teachings, Catholic ecclesiology, and even the
basic rudiments of the Catholic Catechism.”
Bruskewitz, “The Diocese of Lincoln does not see any
reason for the existence of Ewers and her organization.”
Replying to questions from the
Register via e-mail, Bishop Bruskewitz stopped short
of calling for the board’s outright abolition. He said that while he sees no
use for the board, it may be useful for some bishops for reasons he was not
Asked which board members had
advocated moral positions contrary to Church teachings, Bishop Bruskewitz named current board member Dr. Paul McHugh and
former board member Leon Panetta.
Panetta, who served as Bill
Clinton’s chief of staff, supported abortion laws while serving as a U.S.
twice vetoed a ban on partial-birth abortion while president.
McHugh is a Johns Hopkins
psychiatrist who also serves on President Bush’s Council on Bioethics. He has
expressed support for cloning human embryos to extract stem cells, but has
defended his position, saying it is more complicated than simply pro-cloning.
This is not the first time Bishop Bruskewitz has been critical of the National Review Board.
In a May 2004 interview with Catholic
World Report, he said that the lay board — which is appointed by the
bishops’ conference president — is “problematic” in terms of ecclesiology and
has no authority over bishops.
In support of his position, Bishop
Bruskewitz cited Pope John Paul II’s
1998 apostolic letter on bishops’ conferences, Apostolus Suos. It states, “Bishops, whether
individually or united in conference, cannot autonomously limit their own
sacred power in favor of the Episcopal Conference, and even less can they do so
in favor of one of its parts, whether the permanent council or a commission or the
president” (No. 20).
also argued that the sexual abuse charter is not binding on individual
dioceses, unlike the provisions of the Vatican’s
“Essential Norms” for the handling of sexual abuse cases in the United States.
Those norms, which do not refer to the National Review Board or to diocesan
abuse audits, were promulgated by the Congregation of the Clergy in December
2002 following consultations with the U.S. bishops.
The National Review Board’s Ewers
does not dispute that Bishop Bruskewitz has the
authority to refuse to participate in the sexual abuse audits. At the same
time, she’s not apologetic about calling for his “fraternal correction” by his
Said Ewers, “He
looks at it as a question of authority, I look at it as a question of
The U.S. bishops have committed
themselves to the implementation of the charter and to annual audits, Ewers
said, and “the responsibility of the National Review Board is to oversee that
When an individual bishop such as
Bishop Bruskewitz refuses to participate, Ewers said
that “fraternal correction seems the appropriate means” to address the
situation since the bishops’ conference lacks authority to compel cooperation.
Regarding Bishop Bruskewitz’s allegation that some members of the National
Review Board dissent from Church teachings on some moral issues, Ewers said, “I
am not aware of the specifics of what he’s referring to.”
Asked why she was focusing on
Bishop Bruskewitz, whose diocese has not been
embroiled in the abuse scandals, rather than advocating fraternal correction in
cases where bishops are known to have protected abusive priests, Ewers said
that without an audit there was no “certitude” that the Diocese of Lincoln
wasn’t more vulnerable to the problem than Bishop Bruskewitz
Ewers said that if cases of
concrete mishandling of abuse allegations by bishops came to the attention of
the board through the auditing process, “then it would be appropriate for us to
call for fraternal correction” in those cases as well.
The bishops’ conference has
declined to distance itself from the comment of the chairman of the National
Review Board. Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, director of
communications for the U.S.
bishops’ conference, said that Bishop William Skylstad,
the president of the bishops’ conference, and other conference officials would
not comment on the matter.
This is not the first time a
bishop has questioned whether it is appropriate for the National Review Board
to advocate fraternal correction. In an April 2004 letter to Anne Burke, Ewers’
predecessor as chairman of the National Review Board, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver
and his then-Auxiliary Bishop Jose Gomez said, “The matter of ‘fraternal
correction’ among bishops has canonical implications that go well beyond the NRB’s competence.”
The Denver bishops also questioned the wisdom of
conducting annual audits. “We do think it would make more sense on a triennial
or quadrennial basis,” they wrote.
Said Archbishop Chaput and Bishop Gomez, “In any case, it is not the NRB’s duty to interpret the Charter. The NRB is an
important advisory body at the service of the bishops. It does not and cannot
have supervisory authority.”
Catholic commentator Russell Shaw,
who served as spokesman for the U.S.
bishops’ conference from 1969-1987, said that while it’s “certainly arguable”
that Bishop Bruskewitz should have cooperated with
the annual audit, “I don’t think it was appropriate for the Review Board to
chastise him on its own authority in public.”
“There are a number of bishops … who have either done, or have been accused of
having done, far worse things than Bishop Bruskewitz
is alleged to have done by the Review Board. And I don’t notice the Review
Board having taken any of those bishops to task.”
Shaw said that at the bishops’
conference meeting in June 2002 in Dallas,
where the review board was created, many bishops were concerned about the board
and about other elements of the abuse charter. But in the climate of harsh
media criticism directed against bishops over the mishandling of U.S. cases of
priestly sexual abuse, such bishops have been wary of expressing their concerns
Said Shaw, “A
not inconsiderable number of bishops more or less feel the same way as Bishop Bruskewitz about the National Review Board, and about a lot
of other aspects of the national policy on sex abuse.”
Tom McFeely is based in
Victoria, British Columbia.
Copyright © 2015 EWTN News, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of material from this website without written permission is strictly prohibited.
Accessed from 184.108.40.206