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USCCB committee with National Review Board: Church must build culture of accountability and transparency

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Pews are seen are seen in this illustration photo. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

WASHINGTON — Members of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People have agreed with the National Review Board’s call that the Catholic Church must continue to build a culture of accountability and transparency regarding clergy sexual abuse.

Bishop James V. Johnson Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, committee chairman, said in a statement that the members also agree with the all-lay review board “on the need to identify, address and correct systemic failures which hinder the best response to allegations.”

The reaction was posted in March on the committee’s page on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, www.usccb.org.

It came in response to a Dec. 16 National Review Board statement following the release of the Vatican’s report on its investigation into how former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick was able to rise up the Catholic hierarchical structure despite the repeated rumors, anonymous letters, allegations and even settlements with alleged victims of abuse.

The review board, chaired by Suzanne Healy, said in its statement that the Vatican report, while “precedent setting and a commendable step in addressing clerical abuse … points out woeful and systemic failures in the lack of oversight and inaction in handling former allegations at many levels.”

McCarrick, the onetime cardinal of Washington, resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018. After a canonical process found him guilty in February 2019 of “solicitation in the sacrament of confession and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power,” Pope Francis dismissed him from the priesthood.

The NRB called for “systemic failures” to be “addressed and corrected” and that in doing so the church will build a culture that is “unafraid to require accountability on the part of bishops, transparency when allegations surface, the willingness of bishops to speak up and correct each other when appropriate.”

Board members also acknowledged that in the wake of the Vatican report, “many bishops” have made a commitment to transparency and accountability.

Every child and vulnerable adult must be at the center of the church’s protection and safety practices, the board said, acknowledging steps taken by individual bishops and the USCCB to do so.

“We applaud the efforts of the bishops these past years. The church has worked diligently to correct past failures. Its primary commitment is to promote healing and reconciliation with survivors,” the NRB said.

Board members also expressed gratitude for Pope Francis issuing his “motu proprio” (on his own accord) in May 2019, “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You Are the Light of the World”), which promotes bishops’ accountability and established procedures for handling accusations of abuse against bishops.

The bishops’ committee emphasized in its statement the commitment “To Protect and To Heal” is a continuous effort.

“The NRB statement encourages the bishops to build on the progress the church has made,” the committee said. “Safeguarding is an evolutionary process which emerges from a commitment to integrity, fidelity to upholding moral norms of behavior, and ongoing critical assessment of policies and outcomes.”