US bishops face tough questions on investigation proposals

Bishops listen to speakers on the first day of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore yesterday (CNS/Bob Roller)

Debate over the role lay people could have in the oversight of bishops dominated day one of a United States bishops’ meeting on accountability yesterday. Source: Crux.

While the bishops are slated to vote on new proposals modelled after Pope Francis’ new motu proprio, Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”), as discussions got underway it became evident that both bishops and the lay experts had serious concerns that the current extent of lay involvement may not be enough to satisfy frustrated lay Catholics who have grown sceptical of the Church’s handling of abuse.

The new universal Church law now makes it mandatory for all clerics and members of religious orders to report cases of clerical sexual abuse to Church authorities, including when committed by bishops or cardinals.

The proposals put before the bishops, meant to enact Vos estis in the context of the US, would establish a national third-party reporting system to receive complaints of abuse or cover-up and then report it to the appropriate ecclesial authorities. Further, it invests the metropolitan archbishop with the authority to carry out an investigation into a bishop, noting that it is “highly encouraged” for him to “avail himself of an investigator” which could include a number of lay experts, and it leaves it up to the local province to finance the investigation.

Francesco Cesareo, head of the National Review Board (NRB), said that the NRB “remains uncomfortable with allowing bishops to review allegations against other bishops as this essentially means bishops policing bishops.”

The NRB was established in 2002 by the USCCB to monitor the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, known as the Dallas Charter, which established protocols for the Church in the US to respond to abuse allegations.

Mr Cesareo went on to say that “lay involvement is key to restoring the credibility of the Church which includes a commitment to transparency. Not involving laity with competence and expertise in leading the review process would signal a continuation of a culture of self-preservation that would suggest complicity.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago told the floor that Vos estis allows for establishment of an “ecclesiastical office” to investigate complaints and suggested that “institutionalises” lay involvement in the process.

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US bishops face tough questions on new abuse investigation proposals (Crux

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