San Diego Bishop Holds ‘Listening Sessions’ on Abuse Crisis

Bishop Robert McElroy said he was committed to increasing accountability for bishops and to maintaining a zero-tolerance approach.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego (photo: CNA file photo via Diocese of San Diego)

SAN DIEGO— Bishop Robert McElroy told a crowd of more than 300 people that he was committed to increasing accountability for bishops and to maintaining a zero-tolerance approach to abuse in the diocese. The San Diego bishop spoke at the first of eight public meetings scheduled to provide a forum for feedback from the laity on recent abuse scandals.

The meeting was held Oct. 1 at Our Mother of Confidence parish in University City, San Diego.

“These meetings will focus on seeking input from people in the pews on the pathway to such reform, listening to those who have been victimized by clerical sexual abuse either directly or in their families, and praying for God’s grace to be our only guide,” Bishop McElroy said in a statement announcing the fora that was distributed after weekend Masses in the diocese.

Bishop McElroy began the session Monday evening by acknowledging the “wrenching” effect that recent scandals had had on Catholics, and he invited the audience to help form the Church’s response to the crisis.   

The open forum proved to be a difficult event for the bishop, according to local media. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Bishop McElroy fielded vocal criticism, including some booing, for his perceived “downplaying” of recent scandals, including the revelations about Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and the “testimony” of former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

Bishop McElroy has previously called Archbishop Viganò’s initial public letter, released at the end of August, a “distortion of the truth” and an attempt “to settle old personal scores.”

During the event, Bishop McElroy was asked about a number of topics related to the recent scandals, including increased accountability for bishops, the safety of seminarians from sexual abuse and coercion, and the existence of a “homosexual subculture” in some parts of the Church.

Bishop McElroy told those attending that there was no link between the sexuality of priests and instances of abuse. “Abuse is not about sex,” he said. “It is about power and domination.”

In an Aug. 27 statement on the crisis of sex abuse in the Church, Bishop McElroy wrote that “the bishops of our nation, in union with the Holy Father, should be focused solely on comprehensively revealing the truth about the patterns of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy in our Church, so that deep reform can be enacted.”

As part of the listening session, the bishop also explained the measures the diocese has had in place since 2003 to enforce its policy of zero-tolerance for abuse.

“I think we’re in an okay place in the structures we have put in place for the protection of minors,” he said.

According to the Union-Tribune, Bishop McElroy also said that the diocese had received no credible allegations of abuse against living priests in more than three years.

In March of this year, the Diocese of San Diego removed a religious priest from his position as associate pastor in the parish of St. Patrick in Carlsbad, California, following an alleged sexual assault on a seminarian after a parish event.

While parishioners were not told why Father Juan Garcia Castillo was removed from his post, the diocese confirmed to CNA in September that the diocese had suspended his priestly faculties. The priest is facing criminal charges of sexual battery.

Despite the sometimes aggravated tone of questions and contributions, loud bursts of applause did break out in appreciation of the priests of the diocese, of whom attendees spoke warmly.

A further seven “listening sessions” have been scheduled by the diocese, with the next taking place at 7pm Oct. 3 at St. Joseph Cathedral.