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BALTIMORE (ChurchMilitant.com) - The U.S. bishops have issued a new document addressing the major concerns raised at their week-long Baltimore meeting: namely, the mechanism by which bishops are investigated for abuse, and whether laity will be involved.
Among their resolutions: Lay participation is encouraged, but not mandatory for any diocese. And bishops remain officially exempt from the provisions of the Dallas Charter, although a new national hotline is being established to report abuse.
The document, sent to all U.S. bishops Friday morning, is the fruit of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) meeting in Baltimore this week, setting forth the resolutions achieved as a result of the week-long meeting.
The document addresses perhaps the main objection to the metropolitan model: that it's little more than a system of self-policing. The USCCB's answer is to encourage lay participation, stopping short of Bp. Shawn McKnight and Bp. Joseph Strickland's recommendations of mandatory lay involvement in investigating bishops.
Critics have expressed dissatisfaction with Pope Francis' motu proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi, which places the metropolitan archbishop in charge of any investigation into allegations of abuse by brother bishops. The metropolitan's power is near-total.
The metropolitan is given authority to reject a claim as unfounded and drop any investigation. "If the Metropolitan considers the report manifestly unfounded, he shall so inform the Pontifical Representative" — the papal liaison, who then informs the competent dicastery in Rome.
Article 19 — the last article — gives brief mention of complying with state law on reporting requirements; however, nowhere in the motu proprio are clergy instructed they must report abuse to secular authorities, leaving the investigation entirely within the ranks of the Church.
"Isn't the 'Metropolitan Model' just bishops policing bishops?" Friday's USCCB document asks, going on to answer:
While we have seen Metropolitan investigations achieve success in uncovering, publicizing and punishing bishop misconduct multiple times in the past year, the body of bishops agreed in Baltimore that independent lay oversight is crucial. The combination of lay involvement, Metropolitan leadership and the final judgment of the Holy See will ensure that complaints are evaluated thoroughly, and justice is achieved for victims and survivors.
The document clarifies that lay participation is not mandatory.
"Pope Francis is aware that the diverse regions of the world differ in terms of the resources that are available in them," the document reasons, suggesting that limited resources may prevent certain dioceses from involving laymen in investigating bishops' abuse.
Mandatory lay involvement was suggested at the USCCB meeting by at least two bishops as well as Dr. Francescao Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board.
"I believe it should be mandatory that we involve laity in the investigation of any case of sexual abuse by a bishop or corruption, cover-up involving the same," McKnight said to brother bishops Thursday. "I believe we should do that because that's the Catholic thing to do."
"Lay involvement should be mandatory to make darn sure that we bishops do not harm the Church in the way bishops have harmed the Church, especially what we have become aware of this past year," he added.
"We need that mandatory aspect of the laity involved as much as possible," said Strickland, speaking after McKnight.
Cesareo expressed the same need for lay involvement.
"We find ourselves at a turning point, a critical moment in our history, which will determine in many ways the future vibrancy of the Church, and whether or not trust in your leadership can be restored," Cesareo said, going on to urge lay participation in investigating abuse.
The fact that lay involvement is merely recommended but not required leaves critics skeptical that any real accountability will occur.
Making several references to McCarrick, the USCCB document responds to objections that the metropolitan model would've allowed a sexual predator like McCarrick (the metropolitan when he oversaw the archdiocese of Washington, D.C.) "to have simply ignored suggestions of lay oversight, or stacked any lay committee with friends who would turn a blind eye to his actions."
"The new procedures are written precisely to prevent the scenario just described," the USCCB document states. "When a complaint is made against a Metropolitan archbishop, it does not go to his archdiocese for the investigation, but instead to the senior suffragan bishop by promotion in the province, thus another diocese than the archbishop's."
It continues, "In addition, the Holy See could decide that the accusation should be investigated outside of that province."
Critics would respond that there is no guarantee the senior suffragan would be truly independent or impartial — especially if he's a lower-ranked bishop dealing with abuse leveled against a cardinal as powerful as McCarrick. Neither is intervention by the Holy See guaranteed to produce accountability, as the Vatican has thus far refused transparency in the McCarrick investigation, in spite of multiple calls to release the documents.
Pope Francis' own integrity in the matter has been called into serious question in light of Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò's allegations, confirmed 10 months later by the cache of letters published by Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, former personal secretary to McCarrick.
His letters, which have been forensically authenticated, prove that Pope Francis knew about restrictions imposed on McCarrick for his sexual misconduct but ignored them and even promoted McCarrick, encouraging him to make multiple trips to China and other countries.
As to the seeming lack of transparency or progress with regard to the Vatican's McCarrick investigation, the USCCB document simply responds, "A careful and thorough study necessarily takes time."
The U.S. bishops' conference has had a checkered history with regard to cooperating with lay investigators in sex abuse. The most glaring example was that of Frank Keating, who resigned as first chairman of the National Review Board in 2003 after comparing the bishops' conference to La Cosa Nostra, the American mafia family.
"I make no apology,'' Keating wrote in his resignation letter in the face of condemnations from Cdl. Roger Mahony and others.
The Church is a ''home to Christ's people," wrote Keating, ''It is not a criminal enterprise."
"It does not condone and cover up criminal activity," the letter continued. "It does not follow a code of silence. My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology."
''To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church," Keating wrote.
Although the incident took place in 2003, 16 years later, in light of the McCarrick scandal — with one of the Church's most powerful prelates involved in decades of homosexual misconduct while multiple bishops remained silent — Catholics are left with the sense that not much has changed. In spite of the Vatican's claims that it continues to investigate McCarrick, no answers have been provided with regard to complicit clergy who helped protect McCarrick, nor have any documents been released, in spite of multiple calls for the Vatican to do so.
The USCCB document assures the faithful that the "Holy Father's Motu Proprio, the new Directives, the renewed Episcopal Commitments, the third-party reporting system, and the heavy emphasis and reliance on lay expertise in the United States will bring unprecedented accountability throughout the hierarchy of the American Church."
It remains to be seen how much accountability will actually take place, however, in light of the news that only one in seven dioceses in America are in compliance with the Dallas Charter. And the information sent in from each diocese remains obscure.
According to Cesareo, even the National Review Board does not get to see the raw data collected from the auditing company, Stonebridge.
"The raw data will not be available to you," Cesareo said in an email to Church Militant. "The NRB only sees the composite report [from] Stonebridge which is what you have in the Annual Report. The audit data is confidential and only seen by the auditors themselves."
"72 dioceses underwent an on-site audit (typically, one-third of the dioceses have on on-site audit each year), which is the focus of the report," he explained. "The data collection audit was done of the remaining 125 dioceses."
"When a diocese undergoes the data collection audit, there is no determination of compliance, it is simply the gathering of information," he confirmed.
In other words, the review board is not given information as to which dioceses are or are not in compliance.
Additionally, the dioceses self-report, meaning there is no way to tell — without a detailed, in-depth audit of each diocese itself, something outside the purview of the National Review Board — whether the statistics and information each diocese gives is accurate. An on-site audit is not mandatory, which is why the majority of U.S. dioceses do not conduct one.