As the annual Fall General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops draws to a close, I would like to share with you my thoughts and observations on the bishops’ meeting this week. While I was initially disappointed with the Holy See’s request that we hold off on actual votes concerning our proposed action plans, I do feel that our discussions were very frank, productive and hopeful.
This week, I have had the opportunity to speak with my brother bishops about the work that has been done and that which still remains to be done to ensure the development and implementation of robust protections in every diocese preventing all forms of abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience in the Church. I felt a true sense of openness and a strong determination on the part of the bishops to do whatever it takes, including working with outside experts, the laity and other interested parties across the country to develop further actions to strengthen protections against predators and anyone who would conceal them. The leadership of the USCCB has demonstrated a clear direction forward and a deep desire to take actions to address the abuse crisis which would include the establishment of a third-party confidential reporting system for claims of any abuse by bishops, the development of proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of abuse of minors or adults, and initiating the process of developing a code of conduct for bishops. All of this work must continue to be undertaken keeping in mind first and foremost the well-being and needs of anyone who suffered abuse at the hands of clergy.
I am hopeful that the work begun at this bishops’ conference will ultimately lead to a beginning of the restoration of trust among the faithful and come to fruition with the development of meaningful reform in union with the Holy Father and the Universal Church.
Please join me in prayer asking our God of all goodness to grant to all who are entrusted with leading the Church the wisdom and courage to continue on this path, ultimately leading to healing and hope among the Body of Christ, the Church.
I invite you to read the final statement (below) delivered by USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, at the close of the 2018 Fall General Assembly.
“Brothers, I opened the meeting expressing some disappointment. I end it with hope. My hope is first of all grounded in Christ, who desires that the Church be purified and that our efforts bear fruit.
In late summer on your behalf, I expressed our renewed fraternal affection for our Holy Father. In September the Administrative Committee expressed for all of us our “love, obedience and loyalty” for Pope Francis. Now together with you today, gathered in Baltimore in Plenary Assembly, we the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops pledge to His Holiness our loyalty and devotion in these difficult days. I am sure that, under the leadership of Pope Francis, the conversation that the global Church will have in February will help us eradicate the evil of sexual abuse from our Church. It will make our local efforts more global and the global perspective will help us here.
Brothers, you and the speakers we have heard from have given me direction and consensus. I will take it as a springboard for action. Listening is essential, but listening must inform decisive action. Let me take this moment to thank the many survivors and experts who have given us such good counsel and direction these last few days.
When the summer’s news first broke, we committed to three goals: to do what we could to get to the bottom of the Archbishop McCarrick situation; to make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier; and, to develop a means of holding ourselves accountable that was genuinely independent, duly authorized, and had substantial lay involvement.
Now, we are on course to accomplish these goals. That is the direction that you and the survivors of abuse across our country have given me for the February meeting in Rome. More than that, in the days prior to the meeting of episcopal conference presidents, the Task Force I established this week will convert that direction into specific action steps. Some of those actions steps include:
- A process for investigating complaints against bishops reported through a third-party compliance hotline. We will complete a proposal for a single national lay commission and a proposal for a national network relying upon the established diocesan review boards, with their lay expertise, to be overseen by the metropolitan or senior suffragan.
- Finalizing the Standards of Accountability for Bishops.
- Finalizing the Protocol for Removed Bishops.
- Studying national guidelines for the publication of lists of names of those clerics facing substantiated claims of abuse.
- Supporting the fair and timely completion of the various investigations into the situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick and publication of their results. We are grateful for the Holy See’s Statement of October 6 in this regard.
We leave this place committed to taking the strongest possible actions at the earliest possible moment. We will do so in communion with the Universal Church. Moving forward in concert with the Church around the world will make the Church in the United States stronger, and will make the global Church stronger.
But our hope for true and deep reform ultimately lies in more than excellent systems, as essential as these are. It requires holiness: the deeply held conviction of the truths of the Gospel, and the eager readiness to be transformed by those truths in all aspects of life.
As the nuncio reminded us on Monday, “if the Church is to reform herself and her structures, then the reform must spring from her mission of making known Christ, the Son of the Living God.” No system of governance or oversight, however excellent and necessary, suffices alone to make us, weak as we all are, able to live up to the high calling we have received in Christ.
We must recommit to holiness and to the mission of the Church. Brothers, I have heard you today. I am confident that in unity with the Holy Father and in conversation with the Universal Church in February we will move forward. There is more to be done, but what we have done is a sign of hope.