May Current Call for Investigations Bring About Lasting Era of Transparency


(photo: Lisa F. Young/Shutterstock)
More than one year after the Theodore McCarrick sex-abuse scandal broke, leaving the U.S. bishops exposed to intense criticism over a lack of accountability in their handling of abuses within their own ranks, we are beginning to see action according to the new measures laid out by Pope Francis in his May apostolic letter Vos Estis Lux Mundi (You Are the Light of the World). There are several initiatives underway, and the faithful are paying close attention.

Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota, is the first sitting bishop to be investigated under the new norms. Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the metropolitan of Minnesota, is leading the investigation.

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York, is facing withering criticism and calls for his resignation in the wake of his handling of abusive priests and, most recently, a pervasive and continuing subculture of homosexuality and excess at the diocesan seminary that dates to his predecessors, Bishops Edward Kmiec and Henry Mansell. As of this writing, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has not indicated whether he will launch an investigation.

Added to this are the investigations of disgraced and sanctioned retired Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, who is accused of sexually assaulting seminarians and abusing diocesan finances to support a lavish lifestyle, and retired Bishop Joseph Hart of Cheyenne, Wyoming, who has been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. Credit should be given to current Cheyenne Bishop Steven Biegler, who, after becoming bishop in 2017, authorized the re-investigation of sexual abuse allegations against his predecessor and, after finding them credible, reported them to civil authorities and the Vatican. Bishop Hart is facing potential criminal and Church penalties if found guilty. Further, seminaries in New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey are currently being investigated regarding allegations of sexual misconduct and cover-up involving seminarians and, in some cases, seminary officials and other ordained clergy.

Despite this movement toward accountability, as I have noted in this space before, many questions still remain. Most prominently, the Vatican has yet to disclose the findings of its own investigation into the mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against McCarrick.

Lack of transparency in dealing with sexual abuse and financial misconduct has led the faithful to view some of their shepherds with suspicion, and any delays in getting to the truth only fuels that feeling. And when internal corruption also is in play, this further undermines the moral authority of the Church within the culture at large.

At the same time, while this trial has weakened the faith of far too many people, we cannot let the scandal of clergy sexual abuse and related cover-ups deter each of us from prayer and constant effort in the Church’s primary mission: saving souls. We must keep our eyes always focused on Christ.

May the current push from our leaders, encouraged by the courageous men and women who love Christ and his Church, bring about a lasting era of transparency, humility and justice.

God bless you!

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