The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ independent lay advisory panel on the protection of children and young people on November 13, 2018, delivered a special report to the body of U.S. bishops regarding the abuse crisis in the Church. In an address to the bishops who have gathered in Baltimore for the annual fall general assembly, National Review Board Chairman Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D., outlined key reforms and urged action. The report calls for broadening the scope of the Charter on the Protection of Children and Young People to include bishops; the publication of complete lists of credibly accused clergy in all dioceses; improving the audit process, and enhancing accountability for bishops regarding cases of abuse.
“Today, the faithful and the clergy do not trust many of you,” Cesareo said. “They are angry and frustrated, no longer satisfied with words and even with prayer. They seek action that signals a cultural change from the leadership of the Church. Their distrust will remain until you truly embrace the principles of openness and transparency listed in the Charter. You must come to terms with the past. There cannot be reconciliation without full acknowledgment of the truth.”
Cesareo pointed to Bishop Robert Morneau, retired bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, as an example of what others must be willing to do. In September, Bishop Morneau retired from public ministry in the wake of his failure to handle abuse.
“He took full responsibility for his failure to prevent abuse and asked to withdraw from public ministry, stating his intentions to spend his time in prayer for all victims of sexual abuse and perform corporal works of mercy as reparation for his failures,” Cesareo said. “A grand jury report or canonical proceeding did not force him to withdraw. He did so because his conscience dictated such action.”
Cesareo said it was regrettable that the bishops would not be able to take action during the current meeting, having been asked do delay by the Vatican until after the February 2019 meeting of the heads of bishops conferences called by Pope Francis to address the abuse crisis. However, Cesareo said the review board stands by its recommendations to hold bishops accountable.
“Beyond transparency, current events also reveal a lack of accountability for many bishops for their role in the abuse crisis,” Cesareo said. “While much of the guilt has been placed on priests, bishops have often escaped punishment. Simply, the accountability of bishops has never been fully addressed. Full accountability of bishops requires at least two concrete actions: investigating allegations involving bishops and ensuring consequences for bishops who have failed in their responsibility to protect the vulnerable.”