ANCHORAGE, Alaska — After reflecting and praying on the proceedings of the U.S. bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore, Anchorage Archbishop Paul D. Etienne said he is sure of two things: that the “people of God need to hear from their bishops in the wake” of that meeting and that “there is hope for our future.”
The “show-stopper moment” came as the meeting opened, he said, when Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston Houston, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced the Vatican had asked that no vote be taken on several abuse-related protocols governing bishops’ behavior and accountability that he had hoped would be accepted during the three-day meeting.
The instruction came from the Congregation for Bishops, citing the upcoming February meeting of the presidents of the bishops’ conferences around the world to address clergy sex abuse and to ensure that the proposals were in line with canon law.
“Since that moment,” Etienne wrote, “the one question that quickly surfaced was: ‘Why doesn’t the pope care about the abuse crisis in the United States?'”
“Let me be very clear, while this was a disturbing moment, and a troubling way to begin our meeting, Pope Francis cares very much about what we are experiencing in the United States. But, he also recognizes that this is a problem of the universal church, and requires measures that will apply globally.”
He also referred to allegations that retired Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, former cardinal and former archbishop of Washington, abused a minor decades ago and has engaged in sexual misconduct with seminarians. The 88-year-old archbishop denies the claims.
Etienne acknowledged that many have questioned how the prelate could rise up the ranks of the Church to become a cardinal.
“A motion was made during our meeting to encourage the Holy Father to release documents related to this case. This motion ultimately failed because after considerable debate, we recognized that the Holy See in October already made such a commitment,” Etienne explained.
He added that “it is important for the people in the pews and the public to know” that investigations “are now underway” into claims made against the prelate and into how and when church leaders were aware of these claims even years ago.
“We will simply need to remain vigilant in awaiting the public disclosures, and should it become necessary at some point in the future, to push for the publication of their findings,” Etienne said.
He said he is well aware people are asking where the voice and input of the laity, especially of women, are in this process.
“On the local level, in every diocese, there are now lay review boards, made up of professional men and women, who give invaluable counsel to bishops regarding all allegations of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults,” he said. “Also, in every diocese, there are safe environment coordinators, and in both of my assignments as a bishop, these were/are women, whom I trust and consult with regularly.”
On the national level, the National Advisory Committee is made up of lay men and women “who give valuable counsel to the bishops,” as well as the National Review Board, whose members “give strong recommendations to the body of bishops through the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
“On the global level, there are more and more women holding offices in the Roman Curia and serving in various consultative bodies,” he said adding that several women have just been appointed to help with preparations for the February summit.
“Granted, there is room and need for more of these voices, but they are present,” Etienne said.
Regarding Francis, Etienne reminded Catholics that the pontiff “consistently calls clergy to greater holiness — to refocus our life and ministry on the life and ministry of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.”
“For the past five years, Pope Francis has been telling us that priesthood and episcopal life are not about privilege, not about honor, not about rewards in the form of climbing the ecclesial ladder,” he said. “Priestly ministry is and always will be fundamentally about service — about being available to others and putting their needs ahead of one’s own. It is summed up in his now famous line: ‘having the smell of the sheep.'”
He added: “In short, his message to us is ‘No to clericalism’ and ‘Yes to service.’ ‘No more abuse of power.’ We are to reject all desire for power, pride and privilege.”
“As much as Pope Francis has focused on reforming the Roman Curia, he is perhaps equally if not more interested in the reform of the episcopacy (the life of bishops),” the archbishop said, and added that he believes that ultimately the request for the USCCB to delay a vote on abuse protocols was him in part saying: “Do not get ahead of the universal church.”
“There is a need for the universal church to recognize that this issue of clergy abuse is a universal problem, and it is now time to address it from a universal perspective,” Etienne said, noting that this is why the people “have taken the unprecedented step” of convening the February summit.
He also praised the pope for requesting that all of the U.S. bishops make an eight-day spiritual retreat together to pray and reflect on the important matters facing the Catholic Church. It is set for Jan. 2-8 at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago.
The pope sees the abuse crisis as a global problem but also sees the need for bishops “to look beyond policies and procedures — to go much deeper — to the core of the problem, which is our own personal, fundamental need for interior conversion,” Etienne said.
“Action is clearly needed on the part of both the USCCB and the Holy See,” he added. “As I read it, there is cause for hope on this front, but, it does require more prayer, patience and perseverance on the part of us all.”