Cardinal DiNardo: ‘Apostolic boldness’ leads U.S. bishops response to Church abuse crisis
July 9, 2019
BALTIMORE (CNS) — During the June 11 to 13 spring assembly of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, it was clear the bishops had to respond to the sexual abuse crisis in the Church — and on the last day of their gathering they approved a series of procedures to begin this process
On June 13, they voted to implement the document “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the light of the world”), issued by Pope Francis in May to help the Catholic Church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable.
The bishops, including Daniel Cardinal DiNardo who attended as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), also approved the document “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitments” and promised to hold themselves accountable to the commitments of the charter, including a zero-tolerance policy for abuse. The document says any codes of conduct in their respective dioceses regarding clergy apply to bishops as well.
They voted in favor of the item “protocol regarding available nonpenal restrictions on bishops,” which outlines what canonical options are available to bishops when a retired bishop resigns or is removed “due to sexual misconduct with adults or grave negligence of office, or where subsequent to his resignation he was found to have so acted or failed to act.”
Their first action was a vote June 12 to authorize the implementation of a third-party system that would allow people to make confidential reports of abuse complaints against bishops through a toll-free telephone number and online. The system, which would be operated by an outside vendor contracted by the USCCB, should be in place no later than May 31, 2020.
During the first day of the assembly, several speakers discussed the challenge ahead and the need for the bishops to be both transparent and reliant upon lay leadership. The bishops also examined their plans to vote on procedures and policies in response to the abuse crisis, including some they had put aside during their fall general assembly in November at the Vatican’s request.
The bishops’ postponement of voting on these procedures was addressed from the meeting’s onset June 11 in a message from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican’s nuncio to the United States.
He noted that there were “some expressions of ‘dissent’” by some U.S. bishops at the previous assembly about postponing votes on items related to the reemergent clergy sexual abuse crisis, but he also stressed that “unity prevails over conflict.”
“Working together provides us with the opportunity to speak and to listen,” said the message from Archbishop Pierre, read by Monsignor Walter Erbi, charge d’affaires at the Vatican’s nunciature in Washington. Archbishop Pierre was at the Vatican for a nuncio meeting.
Archbishop Pierre’s message said that despite the desire among U.S. bishops in November to act quickly to address new crises on clergy sex abuse, the postponement of the votes on the issue allowed the U.S. Church to participate more fully at the Vatican’s February summit on the protection of minors.
“One of the reasons the Holy Father asked for a delay was that the whole Church needed to walk together, to work in a synodal way,” Archbishop Pierre said, “with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make the path forward clearer.”
Cardinal DiNardo opened the meeting on June 11 by saying: “We begin the sacred work this week of purging the evil of sexual abuse from our Church.”
The bishops also had the weight of unfinished business upon them in this spring’s gathering: policies and procedures in response to the abuse crisis that they had put aside at last year’s fall general assembly at the Vatican’s request. They also had a new, but related, item: their plan to implement Pope Francis’ norms issued May 9 to help the Church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable.
Although the bishops passed all the abuse measures before them, none of them said these actions would hit the reset button for the Church. In closing remarks, Cardinal DiNardo acknowledged that the steps they had taken were a “work in progress.”
Moving forward was certainly a theme of the assembly, echoed by National Review Board chairman Francesco Cesareo June 11, who called for a more significant role for laity in investigating allegations of abuse or reaction to reports of abuse against bishops.
Both the National Review Board and the National Advisory Council pressed the bishops to encourage Vatican officials to release documents regarding the investigation of misconduct by Theodore E. McCarrick, the former cardinal who was laicized earlier this year. The allegations against him were made public nearly a year ago on June 20, 2018.
The bishops also discussed the upcoming election, the crisis at the border and the issue of young adults leaving the Church.
They were urged to do more to support the suffering of immigrant families, to be with them spiritually as pastors and to voice support for legal measures to help them.
Two bishop members of the group, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, gave an update of what the U.S. Church is doing at the national level and in certain regions of the country on immigration issues.
Bishop Vasquez urged the group to “redouble efforts to offer spiritual support and access to legal and social services to affected families,” saying it is “vital that they feel supported by the Church during this time of uncertainty.”
Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, spoke about an upcoming presentation at the fall meeting on how to respond to the growing number of young people leaving the Church.
He said getting the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” particularly young people, back to the Catholic Church, should be a top priority for the Church, noting that 50 percent of Catholics age 30 and younger have left the Church.
“Half the kids that we baptized and confirmed in the last 30 years are now ex-Catholics or unaffiliated,” he said, and “one out of six millennials in the U.S. is now a former Catholic.”
In anticipation of the 2020 presidential election, the U.S. bishops’ quadrennial document that provides guidance to voters on Catholic social teaching won’t change, but it will be supplemented by a brief letter and four 90-second videos that reflect the teaching of Pope Francis, the bishops were told.
At the bishops’ Mass at the end of the first day of the spring assembly, Cardinal DiNardo spoke about the challenges faced by early Christians and urged the bishops to follow the example of Barnabas in the Acts of the Apostles who was respected and trusted.
“Today we honor Barnabas in our desire to do God’s will and to do it carefully and with discretion but also with what the Holy Father calls boldness — apostolic boldness,” he said.