The Administrative Committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference met last week “at this time of shame and sorrow” and announced efforts to confront the clergy sex abuse crisis that returned to the forefront of Church life in the U.S. this summer. The committee consists of the chairs of all conference committees as well as regional representatives, about 35 bishops in all.
The committee approved establishing a third-party reporting system for complaints of sexual misconduct by a bishop, whether the misconduct be with a minor or with an adult. They asked their Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance to “develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.”
As well, the body began developing a Code of Conduct for bishops regarding sexual abuse of a minor, sexual misconduct towards an adult, or “negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.” Finally, the committee said it supported a full scale investigation into “the situation regarding Archbishop Theodore McCarrick,” and specifically called for lay experts to participate in such an investigation.
It was unclear on whose authority an investigation into allegations against McCarrick would be conducted as access to documents of the Holy See would be required. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the bishops’ conference, had previously called for an apostolic visitation into the matter, and he met with Pope Francis earlier this month, but no such visitation was announced. The vice president of the conference, Archbishop Jose Gomez, also attended the meeting with the pope as did conference General Secretary Monsignor Brian Bransfield, and Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley who was already in Rome for the Council of Cardinals meeting.
The next plenary meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference will be in November in Baltimore and discussions of how to implement these and other measures of accountability are expected to dominate discussion.
In a related development Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced an investigation into clergy sex abuse, making his state the eighth since the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released in August to open such an investigation. He also announced a hotline and website at which victims can report abuse.
“This investigation is and will continue to be independent, thorough, transparent, and prompt,” Schuette stated on his official website. “My department and this investigation will find out who knew what, and when.” There are seven dioceses in Michigan and the investigation will cover all of them.
Civil authorities in Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Wyoming have already announced similar investigations into clergy sex abuse cases by Catholic clergy.
Meanwhile Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark announced that he had asked, and received, permission from Pope Francis to be excused from attending next month’s synod of bishops. Newark has been especially hard hit by the clergy sex abuse scandal after reports surfaced that a previous archbishop, Theodore McCarrick, had sexually harassed and abused seminarians at a beach house while serving in Newark.
“After the revelations of the past summer, I could not see myself absent for a month from our archdiocese and from you, the people entrusted to my care,” Tobin said in a letter to the faithful. “After prayer and consultation, I wrote to Pope Francis asking that he dispense me from attending, but assuring him that I strongly support the objectives of the Synod and that I would obey whatever he decided. The Holy Father responded the next day with a beautiful pastoral and compassionate message. He told me that he understands why I need to stay close to home, and he released me from the obligation to attend the Synod next month.”