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US bishops unveil new plans on abuse—without Vatican OK for apostolic visitation

September 19, 2018

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has announced a series of new responses to the sex-abuse scandal. But the USCCB request to Pope Francis for an apostolic visitation of the American Church has apparently been rejected.

The September 19 announcement from the USCCB’s administrative committee listed four new steps, which the bishops’ conference will take on its own authority:

  1. the establishment of a third-party reporting system that would receive confidential complaints about sexual misconduct by bishops, and report those complaints to ecclesiastical and/or civil authorities, as appropriate;
  2. a project to develop proposals for canonical restrictions on bishops who resign because of complaints involving sexual misconduct;
  3. another project to develop a code of conduct for bishops regarding sexual misconduct and negligence in responding to complaints; and
  4. support for a full investigation, supported by lay experts in law enforcement and social services, into the charges lodged against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the responses to those charges.

The September 19 statement comes almost a week after a meeting of USCCB leaders with Pope Francis. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the USCCB president, had sought the meeting with the Pontiff, explaining that he would ask for Vatican approval of an apostolic visitation. Such an investigation, backed by papal authority, could require bishops’ cooperation and the release of relevant Vatican documents, and would therefore greatly increase the likelihood that the charges made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano would be either proven or disproven conclusively. The American bishops’ meeting with the Pope ended without any statement regarding a possible apostolic visitation; today’s statement from the USCCB appears to indicate that the American bishops’ request was denied.

In their statement, the administrative committee of the USCCB emphasizes the determination of the American hierarchy to “heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.” They say that the steps announced today are “only a beginning.”

The USCCB statement calls upon all bishops to make a “deep examination of conscience,” and to join in prayer and penance. “We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the Church has been sufficient,” the bishops say.


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  • Posted by: wsw33410 - Sep. 22, 2018 5:56 AM ET USA

    One missing step - support for a full investigation, supported by lay experts in law enforcement and social services, into the charges submitted by Abp Vigano and the responses to those charges. The USCCB should be able to do it without the Vatican permission, as it applies to various US prelates, right?

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Sep. 21, 2018 11:44 PM ET USA

    Only the Pope can compel a bishop to do anything. So all the USCCB talk is just talk. Each bishop can do whatever he wants to. Business as usual!

  • Posted by: FredC - Sep. 20, 2018 11:10 AM ET USA

    They also need to allow oversight of clergy and hierarchy emails, texts, and computer content -- and possibly record all telephone calls. Sunlight is a great deterrent. Of course, better screening of candidates would be the best step, but even the best of us can fall at any time.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Sep. 19, 2018 10:41 PM ET USA

    Sounds good but what are the time lines to complete projects. Also will there be input the laity? Also need to reduce the government funding which has corrupted many of our hierarchy and processes around them. Need to ensure this does not drag on which indicate a further cover up or hiding of the facts. We shall see. God bless us all and bring justice for us.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Sep. 19, 2018 10:16 PM ET USA

    Possibly Pope Francis does not want a thorough investigation (Apostolic Visitation) for fear that it might expose his failures (possibly sins) in this matter.

  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Sep. 19, 2018 8:07 PM ET USA

    There should be a comprehensive background investigation into Pope Francis in abuse cover-ups.

  • Posted by: WNS3234 - Sep. 19, 2018 6:29 PM ET USA

    There's an aspect of this situation that's been overlooked: Risk Management. I've heard, "My hands are tied by the Risk Management policies and agents (Insurance $$$ as the primary concern of insurance firms, especially true with Mutual funded self-insurance.), and tied by the Dallas Charter 2002 & revisions." It just may be all about the money from Risk Management; just an understated and unforeseen dilemma for bishops.