BALTIMORE — After receiving late-minute instructions from Rome to hold off on votes to make changes in addressing sexual abuse and mismanagement scandals, U.S. bishops Tuesday moved forward with discussion of church leadership’s most significant troubles.
Bishops from around the United States at their fall general assembly in Baltimore weighed proposals on standards of accountability for bishops, a commission for review of complaints against bishops, a third-party reporting system and proposed penalties for bishops found in negligence of their duties.
The Vatican wants the bishops to delay any vote until after a February meeting with the pope and presidents of the bishops’ conferences around the world that will focus on addressing clergy abuse and the church’s handling of it.
“I think there’s concern that the pope, or congregation of bishops, doesn’t want us to take a vote on these four issues that are significant,” said Bishop W. Francis Malooly of the Diocese of Wilmington. “It was very discouraging.
“What we’re going to have to do is take a sense of the house,” the bishop said in an interview during Tuesday’s lunch break. “We’re going to have to be able to come back and say ‘this is where we are’ and ‘this what we want Cardinal DiNardo to take in February with all the different bishops’ conferences from around the world.’ My sense is it will have to be unanimous.”
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will be among those meeting with Pope Francis and other bishops in February. The cardinal helped lead Tuesday’s wide-ranging discussion on the subjects to be taken up at the Vatican, including this sampling of observations.
The bishops heard from Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review board that oversees compliance by dioceses of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” Cesareo said “dioceses today are not the same ones as described in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.”
Still, Cesareo said, responses from dioceses have been incomplete.
“It’s a lack of transparency,” he said. “It’s a lack of accountability. It’s shameful that the sin of abuse was hidden and allowed to fester … due to inaction and silence of some bishops. People want action that seeks cultural change. You must come to terms with your past.”
Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima, Wash., said he’d like to see national standards regarding adjudication of cases. A case in one diocese that is deemed non-credible could be determined as undecided in another.
“There are too many lists,” he said, recommending national standards that are applied in all dioceses.
Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyo., said he’s heard from victims that bad memories are reignited each time a diocese decides to release a list of offenders. He suggests coordinated release of names would reduce the impact to victims.
Cesareo said a priest accused of inappropriate activity with an adult could be exposed to a different set of standards to assess the priest’s suitability for ministry.
“If it involves adults, there are nuances that can be involved. Was there an abuse of power? Was it a single transgression? It may not be the same bar.”
Bishop Robert Evans of Providence, R. I., said we’ve heard a lot about bishops from 50-60 years ago making poor decisions. Evans said he believes it’s important to remember bishops were following best practices at the time.
“It’s important that we recognize that these bishops did all that they could based on the best advice at that time.”
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., says most case reviews are deemed “credible” or “noncredible.”
“What about inconclusive?”
Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Mo., on word from Rome that the Vatican did not want the conference to vote this week.
“It was a heartbreaker to hear that the Holy See doesn’t trust us.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, administrator of Washington, said the problems of the church go beyond priests who have personal problems. “This problem is not just personal. It’s institutional.”
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said he worries about priests or bishops who are publicly accused and then ultimately cleared of wrongdoing. He likens the destruction of a man’s reputation to the Humpy Dumpty nursery rhyme.
“When it falls off the wall, you’re not going to put it back together again. It’s not possible.”