US Bishops Pass Measures to Implement New Norms on Abuse and Accountability

While USCCB president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo noted the new measures are ‘a work in progress,’ they represent a major step forward in addressing the fallout from the McCarrick and Bransfield scandals.

Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB General Assembly, shown Nov. 12, 2018, in Baltimore, said at the spring USCCB meeting this week that third-party reporting systems and investigative review processes were part of the bishops’ vital discussions.
Galveston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB General Assembly, shown Nov. 12, 2018, in Baltimore, said at the spring USCCB meeting this week that third-party reporting systems and investigative review processes were part of the bishops’ vital discussions. (photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

BALTIMORE —  Immediately after the U.S. bishops almost unanimously passed a package of four key measures to address the abuse and accountability crisis in the Church in the United States, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pointedly commented that the new initiatives were “a work in progress,” not a final product.

Meeting in Baltimore at their June 11-14 spring assembly, the U.S. bishops moved to initiate implementation of a concrete response following a year of shocking revelations that included former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse of minors and seminarians and, more recently, the allegations of financial abuse and sexual harassment by West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield.

The most significant new measure is a set of directives that provides for “the utilization of a national third-party reporting system” for abuse complaints; underscores the “requirement to provide pastoral care” to abuse victims; encourages “the utilization of proven experts chosen from among the laity”; and affirms the oversight responsibility of the metropolitan bishop as well as recognizes the “competence of each ecclesiastical province” to allocate costs for the investigation of reports.

A second measure, entitled “Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments,” called for the bishops to make a commitment to apply the standards of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, known as the “Dallas Charter,” and the USCCB “Essential Norms” to themselves, as they already were applied to priests and deacons. Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, explained June 11 that this commitment would be “moral” rather than “legal,” as certain parts of the charter and norms wouldn’t apply to the bishops, such as the issuance of a letter of suitability by the bishop that is required for priests.

Another measure outlines the protocol for nonpenal restrictions on retired or removed bishops who have committed offensive acts. This includes allowing a diocesan bishop to impose limitations on a disgraced bishop to limit his public ministry. The measure also stipulates that the USCCB president can disinvite such a bishop from participation in USCCB events.

This measure could apply in cases that have occurred recently, such as the presence of disgraced Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony at USCCB events, including the 2018 fall assembly. Some also noted the presence of Bishop Robert Finn at the June meeting despite his resignation in 2015 as bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, after being convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse.

They also passed a measure authorizing the establishment of the national third-party reporting system, to be activated by May 31, 2020, for victims to confidentially report abuse cases in accordance with the provisions of Pope Francis’ recent apostolic letter Vos Estis Lux Mundi (You Are the Light of the World).

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco told the Register that the near-unanimous nature of the voting on the measures spoke to how important they are to the bishops.

“Working out details is always a discussion that has to be had, and there are more details to be worked out that we’re entrusting to the executive committee, but I think the general sense of the direction we’re moving in — there’s very strong, practically unanimous support,” he emphasized.


Based on the Metropolitan Model

The bishops took the global norms for handling abuse established in Pope Francis’ apostolic letter, issued motu proprio (on his own initiative), and worked to apply them to the U.S. setting. In the motu proprio, Pope Francis adopted the “metropolitan model” for investigating abuse claims against bishops. Under that model, a metropolitan archbishop would investigate a claim involving a suffragan bishop within his province. In the case of an allegation against a metropolitan archbishop himself, the motu proprio stipulates it should be referred to the province’s senior suffragan bishop for investigation.

And while the metropolitan archbishop is permitted to appoint qualified laypeople to assist in such an investigation, he would remain primarily in charge of the investigation.

“I think we came up with some very significant measures” grounded in the Pope’s directives, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, told the Register following the voting.

“There’s a protocol for bishops to use regarding retired or resigned bishops who have been found to have engaged in some misconduct, and then we have our own statement of commitment that we hold ourselves to certain standards of conduct, so I think what we did today is a very great step forward,” Bishop Paprocki noted.

The bishop also praised the third-party reporting system that the bishops authorized, arguing that it will address the concern “that somebody might make a complaint or an allegation and give it to the metropolitan” and “he won’t do anything about it.”


Lay Involvement

The metropolitan model initially met with criticisms and concerns over its lack of mandatory lay involvement, and how to ensure such involvement was a central concern throughout the Baltimore discussions. On June 11, Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the USCCB’s National Review Board (NRB) for clergy abuse, delivered an address in which he stressed that lay involvement “is key to restoring the credibility of the Church.”

“Article 13 of the motu proprio cites that the bishops of the province may include qualified persons, including laity, in the investigatory process,” Cesareo said. “The NRB urges that this must be the case in the United States through the establishment of an ad hoc lay commission, either on the national or local level.”

During the discussions, Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, was greeted with loud applause for a speech similarly pushing for mandatory lay involvement in the investigatory processes “to make darn sure we bishops do not harm the Church.”

Following the vote, he discussed with the Register how the new measures address this concern.

“I’d like to see it mandated in law that the metropolitan has to use laity in processing cases involving accusations against a bishop,” Bishop McKnight said, “but what we got is just as good, in terms of a moral commitment from this body of bishops, that they will utilize the laity as much as possible and that would include in the metropolitan option.”

“While the norms do not require it, our moral commitment made in the ‘Affirming Our Episcopal Commitment’ [document], that does basically bind us morally to utilize the laity,” he explained.

Throughout the assembly, several other bishops also affirmed to the Register that the strong need for lay involvement was a consistent concern.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, said that the involvement of the laity in the investigation process was “essential.”

Bishop Strickland liked “the idea of laity with expertise in different areas, really kind of mirroring, even in our diocese, which is a rather small diocese — but our review board, we have someone from a law enforcement background; we have an attorney; we have a psychiatrist.” He said that such experts should have “a truly meaningful role in the investigation aspect.”

Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, said that he has seen that the laity want to ensure that the bishops “will do all they can working with laypeople, respectful of the authority of the Holy See, to hold all bishops accountable on any number of fronts about living their vows of celibacy, about financial accountability and being the shepherds that we’re called to be.”

He cited “residual concern even bordering on anger” in regards to the recent scandals, emphasizing that “the people who love Christ and his Church want to make sure that all that can be done is put into effect to make sure that the Church does not go through this again and that there is not an abuse of the office of bishop and that people are not victimized.”

Assessing the situation following the final voting, Cesareo emphasized that “the big debate was the extent of lay involvement and mandating, requiring that lay involvement be part of this metropolitan option, and that, obviously, didn’t happen.”

“I know that there were several bishops who spoke very forcefully for the requirement of lay involvement, but that did not ultimately end up being in the document. The proof will be in the pudding,” he concluded. “I think what we have to do is assess in three years whether or not this is effective and whether or not it works.”


McCarrick and Bransfield

The bishops the Register spoke with during the course of the assembly also addressed the question of whether the steps the USCCB was taking would prevent future scandals like those of McCarrick and Bishop Bransfield.

Bishop McKnight said he couldn’t speak to the details of either case, but he thought that “having laity involved in both the investigation and in assisting the metropolitan to review the results of the investigation to make a determination of what should be recommended to the Holy Father” would “just build greater credibility.”

Bishop Paprocki pointed to McCarrick’s dismissal from the clerical state, which is “the most severe penalty that you can give to any priest.”

“I think you look back at it and you say: Apparently the system did work in the case of McCarrick and in the case of Bishop Bransfield, where you basically used the metropolitan system and involvement of laypeople and came to a conclusion that they should be removed from office, so there were consequences in these cases,” he said.

Archbishop Cordileone said that “there always were procedures for dealing with these sorts of things, but they haven’t been always observed; there has been a kind of looking the other way.”

“I think the procedures that we have now enhance that, make it easier for a report to be made, an investigation to be conducted,” he argued, “and it certainly raises awareness and renews commitment. I think in light of all that has happened, there is a lot of energy for a renewed commitment and especially commitment to integrity when these things happen.”


Calls for Documentation

One major piece of unfinished business of pressing concern to many U.S. Catholics is a formal accounting of which senior Church leaders, in the U.S. and in Rome, knew about McCarrick’s misconduct yet failed to take action.

During the Baltimore meeting, both Cesareo and retired Army Col. Anita Raines, chairwoman of the National Advisory Council to the U.S. Bishops (NAC), called on the bishops to urge the Holy See to release documents related to the McCarrick scandal.

Bishop Paprocki agreed that it would be “good” for the documents to be released and pointed out that Pope Francis promised a “thorough investigation.”

“The Holy Father himself, last October, said that he called for a thorough investigation of all the McCarrick documents; and the communiqué from the Press Office of the Holy See basically said, quoting Pope Francis, that we’ll follow the truth wherever it leads us,” he said. “I do support that.”

Bishop McKnight responded to the lay advisory board’s call by saying he “would support anything we could do to help everyone understand how we got to this point in the crisis.”

“We all need a better understanding of what went wrong so that the whole Church can be involved,” he emphasized.

Archbishop Cordileone said that once the investigation is completed, “there will have to be some sort of a report given,” but echoed Bishop Paprocki’s sentiment that a thorough investigation can’t be rushed.

“The Holy See wants to be sure that it’s a complete and accurate report, so that does take time,” he said.

Bishop Daly said he recognized the need for a thorough report but backed the lay boards’ calls for its release and called for a timeline of when the documents might be released.

“I think we want to support these lay boards, and we want to also acknowledge that the Holy See is working on this,” he said.

Robert Royal, the president of the Faith & Reason Institute, noted that a substantial amount of information regarding the investigation led by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore into Bishop Bransfield’s alleged sexual and financial misconduct has already come to light. In contrast, however, “little of the McCarrick documentation has yet emerged from the dioceses in which he worked here in America, and virtually nothing from Rome,” he noted. 

“The bishops meeting in Baltimore are trying to come up with a serious way of handling abuse by bishops. And it looks like they’ll reach a workable solution,” Royal told the Register.

“But many Catholics are angry and won’t be satisfied with mechanisms involving future cases,” he added. “I hear from a lot of people who will not begin to feel healing is happening until we know how figures like McCarrick and Bransfield were promoted when ‘everyone knew’ they had deep moral problems.”

Staff writer Lauretta Brown filed this report from Baltimore.

Senior Editor Joan Frawley Desmond contributed to this report.