ROME – After a meeting between Pope Francis and the leadership of the US bishops’ conference last Thursday following which no plans for a probe of the case of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick were announced, the bishops on Wednesday announced their support for a “full investigation.”
A statement from the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also announced various plans for establishing reporting systems and codes of conduct with regard to bishops and the sexual abuse of minors.
The Administrative Committee is the main governing organism of the bishops’ conference in between full meetings of all the US bishops, generally held twice a year in the fall and the spring.
The Sept. 13 session with Francis featured Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the USCCB, and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president, as well as Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston in his role as president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the main advisory body to the pope on issues involving clerical abuse.
Also present in the meeting was Monsignor Brian Bransfield, secretary of the USCCB.
On Aug. 16, DiNardo said that the aim of the meeting was to secure the pope’s approval for an Apostolic Visitation, a standard Vatican investigative tool, of the McCarrick scandal, which led to his resignation from the College of Cardinals after a charge of having sexually abused a minor altar boy.
Although there has been no official comment from either the Vatican or the USCCB, it’s widely understood that no agreement on an Apostolic Visitation resulted from the meeting, which lends the Administrative Committee statement special significance.
In its meeting last week, the committee, the statement said, “supported a full investigation into the situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick, including his alleged assaults on minors, priests, and seminarians, as well as any responses made to those allegations. Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services.”
The statement did not address exactly who would lead such an investigation, how it would unfold, or what topics it might cover.
The Administrative Committee also addressed gaps in existing procedures concerning abuse allegations against bishops, since they were specifically exempted from norms adopted during the bishops’ meeting in Dallas in 2002 amid an earlier wave of the abuse crisis.
The statement said the committee:
- “Approved the establishment of a third-party reporting system that will receive confidentially, by phone and online, complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop and will direct those complaints to the appropriate ecclesiastical authority and, as required by applicable law, to civil authorities.”
- “Instructed the USCCB Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.”
- “Initiated the process of developing a Code of Conduct for bishops regarding the sexual abuse of a minor; sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with an adult; or negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.”
Overall, the Administrative Committee said the US bishops will respond to the latest round of the abuse crisis with a determination to “heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.”