US bishops authorize reporting mechanism for episcopal abuse cases
Bishops at the USCCB General Assembly in Baltimore, June 11, 2019. Kate Veik/CNA
June 13, 2019
The US bishops voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to authorize a national third-party system for victims confidentially to report cases of abuse by bishops in violation of Vos estis lux mundi.
“I think it’s obvious to me, and hopefully, I think, to all of us, that victim-survivors are a priority to all of us,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, during deliberations June 12 on the reporting system at the bishops’ Spring General Assembly in Baltimore, Md.
“When that situation happens,” he said to the bishops of cases of reported abuse, “I think that every single one of us is going to be very attentive to the needs and healing process of victim-survivors. So I think this system will help us to precisely make sure that anyone who suffers abuse is going to be taken care of.”
The bishops met for the second day of their annual spring meeting Wednesday, during which they voted to authorize the third-party reporting system, in addition to approving a set of proposed strategic priorities for their upcoming 2021-24 Strategic Plan.
The priorities, the fruit of consultations with the body of bishops, five of their standing committees, and their National Advisory Committee, help determine where the bishops will choose to focus the most time and resources in that timeframe.
The proposed priorities, which passed by a vote of 213 to 8, with four abstentions, were: “Evangelization: Form a joyful band of missionary disciples”; “Life and dignity of the human person: Serve the common good as the leaven in a free society”; “Protect and heal God’s children: Restore integrity, foster virtue”; “Vocations: Equip all Christ’s disciples for mission.”
The reporting system that the bishops approved will feature options for victims to report abuse by phone or online.
In September 2018, the bishops’ Executive Committee proposed a third-party reporting mechanism, but after the publication of Vos estis lux mundi, the motu proprio of Pope Francis in response to the recent crisis of clergy sexual abuse, the bishops also voted to authorize updates to the proposed reporting system to comply with the new document. The updates are set to be approved by the administrative committee in meetings this fall.
For instance, as the document directed allegations of abuse by bishops to be sent to metropolitans, any confidential reporting system would need to reflect this by routing allegations to the regional metropolitan, not just to the apostolic nuncio, thus requiring a more complex and expensive reporting system. The violations to be considered would also be those outlined in Vos estis, not those in the U.S. Bishops’ Code of Conduct.
The bishops discussed other details of the system Wednesday, including advertising the phone number and website for confidential reporting, the procedure for contacting civil authorities and the metropolitan, the role of the third-party vendor, care for victims, and jurisdiction for considering an abuse allegation.
Additionally, the bishops voted to have the system activated by May 31, 2020. Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago emphasized the need for prompt action, saying, “We need this up and running as soon as possible.”
Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon said that in the interim, people need to know that they can still send allegations of abuse directly to metropolitans.
At a press conference shortly after the discussion, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington acknowledged that the reporting system needs to be widely publicized, saying, “it’s our job to make it well-known.”
Among the other votes the bishops took Wednesday were expressing unanimous support for the cause for canonization of Irving C. Houle, a father of five from Michigan who appeared to bear the stigmata. Bishop John Francis Doerfler of Marquette, who delivered the presentation on Houle’s sanctity, as well as Archbishop Sample and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois, attested to Houle’s virtue.
“Irving can serve as an example of holiness for the ordinary guy,” Bishop Doerfler said. “The extraordinary gifts of healing and the stigmata are further indications of how God chooses the humble and the lowly as his instruments.”
Bishop Paprocki also revealed his intention to establish a shrine to Fr. Augustus Tolton in Quincy, Ill., where Fr. Tolton is buried. Pope Francis declared Fr. Tolton a Venerable Wednesday, an acknowledgement that he lived a life of heroic virtue.
The bishops also overwhelmingly approved a new translation of the Revised National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanaent Deacons in the United States, as well as the ICEL Gray Book of the Ordination of a Bishop, of Priests, and of Deacons.