Secular Media Slams US Bishops for Inaction on Abuse

News: US News
by David Nussman  •  •  June 20, 2019   

Reports on the clergy abuse crisis, editorials critical of the U.S. bishops' recent meeting in Baltimore

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DETROIT ( - Even secular media is panning the U.S. bishops for inaction on the clerical sex abuse scandal.

As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had their meeting in Baltimore last week, a report from the Associated Press (AP) highlighted the criminal investigations into Catholic clerical sex abuse happening around the country.

"Hundreds of boxes. Millions of records," the June 11 AP report begins. "From Michigan to New Mexico this month, attorneys general are sifting through files on clergy sex abuse, seized through search warrants and subpoenas at dozens of archdioceses."

The article went on to say, "For decades, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were largely left to police their own. But now, as American bishops gather for a conference to confront the reignited sex-abuse crisis this week, they're facing the most scrutiny ever from secular law enforcement."


That is not the only negative press the U.S. bishops have received in connection to last week's meeting.

For instance, an opinion piece in National Review on June 18 slammed the USCCB General Assembly for its secular, business conference atmosphere and criticized the bishops for failing to address the causes of clergy abuse scandals.

Written by National Review editorial intern Declan Leary, the piece described the bishops as "200 men in black suits," donning nametags, meeting in a large conference room with folding tables, microphones, podiums and water pitchers.

Leary observed, "At a glance, you might think it's a regional gathering of some professional association of paper salesmen, hotel managers, maybe even low-caliber lawyers. Only a careful look at their collars will show that these men are the apostolic shepherds, more or less, of the Catholic Church in the United States."

The piece went on to complain that the bishops talked about "responding" to sexual abuse after it's committed, and not about fighting the moral decay that, in Leary's view, led to the Church's sex abuse crisis.

"A procedural crackdown is necessary, to be sure," Leary professed. "But a plan and an institution that are by nature and habit reactive cannot possibly meet the challenges that face the USCCB."

Leary continued, "Does anybody seriously believe that clearer guidelines for reporting abuse after the fact will solve the problem? Does nobody recognize the moral and cultural rot that has brought us to this point in the first place?"

Does nobody recognize the moral and cultural rot that has brought us to this point in the first place?

A June 19 opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle criticized the measures on sex abuse investigation that the U.S. bishops passed at the General Assembly.

The author argued, "Unfortunately, the new measures adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops once again reinforce the idea that the church can investigate itself. These are not the reforms that survivors and advocates wanted."

The bishops' new rules provide for the establishment of an independent hotline for reporting allegations of sex abuse by bishops. However, they also gave the metropolitan archbishop the power to investigate brother bishops accused of abuse.

Another common point of criticism is the fact that the U.S. bishops stopped short of making lay involvement in the abuse investigation process mandatory. Instead, their rules merely recommend having laity involved in abuse investigations.

This was despite the opinion of Dr. Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, who called for independent lay review to be mandatory. At least two bishops also called for lay involvement to be mandatory.

Unfortunately, the new measures adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops once again reinforce the idea that the church can investigate itself. These are not the reforms that survivors and advocates wanted.

In a press conference during the bishops' meeting last week, one of the reporters pressed Cdl. Daniel DiNardo on clerical sex abuse scandals plaguing his own archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Cardinal DiNardo, who is president of the USCCB, claimed he had been proactive and "aggressive" about making sure the bishops' conference addresses the abuse scandals, adding, "I'm very, very hopeful much will be done today and this week."

He said of what has happened in his own archdiocese, "I have very intense disagreements with what has been presented. But from our own local church, I've tried to be very straightforward with my people. I know when we put out the names of the accused, I had a news conference with four stations. And also, I'm really very open and receptive."

The cardinal then returned to the subject of the USCCB meeting, saying:

And I think one of the reasons why we're here is precisely of all these things come together. We need to put together, for lack of a better word, a "package," a whole way in which we deal with issues of transparency, the way we deal with a bishop in the diocese, that there is an accountability. And I think what we're doing this week is very good.

Also at that June 11 press conference, a reporter with AP asked:

[In] some of the comments from the bishops, as well as the comments from the NRB [national review board] chair, it became clear that there is some interest, or a lot of interest, in getting lay people involved in the investigations. Why not make it a requirement and not just leave it as a suggestion or recommendation, as part of the documents?

Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland, Maine replied:

Because, we are publishing directives for how a particular document is to be implemented, and the document gives flexibility to how it is going to be applied. And you can't put into legislation what is not already in the governing document. The governing document is Vos Estis, which is the Pope's letter.

He went on:

And where the Pope gives flexibility to the metropolitan, as to how he is going to conduct investigation, even though there is an encouragement that they be laypeople involved, we felt that we should, that we had to give that same thing. We're not going beyond what the Holy Father has given.

Cardinal DiNardo commented that Bp. Deeley's answer was mostly in regards to canon law. Bishop Deeley then talked about the importance of the laity in the Church and in the day-to-day functions of a diocese.

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