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Second bishop backs laity-led investigation into US Church

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, NY (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

A second bishop has called for an independent investigation into the US Church in the wake of the McCarrick scandal.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany said senior prelates could not lead any investigative panel because it “would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised.”

The bishop was speaking after Cardinal Donald Wuerl suggested a panel of bishops could look into claims against fellow bishops. That panel would then report to the Vatican, who would decide what action to take.

However, Bishop Scharfenberger criticised the idea, saying: “While I am heartened by my brother bishops proposing ways for our Church to take action in light of recent revelations – and I agree that a national panel should be commissioned, duly approved by the Holy See – I think we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer.”

“It is time for us, I believe, to call forth the talents and charisms of our lay faithful, by virtue of their baptismal priesthood,” he added.

“Our lay people are not only willing to take on this much-needed role, but they are eager to help us make lasting reforms that will restore a level of trust that has been shattered yet again.

“In speaking with them, we all hear their passion for our universal Church, their devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and their hunger for the truth. They are essential to the solution we seek.”

The bishop called for an independent commission led by “well-respected, faithful lay leaders who are beyond reproach”.

“These will be people with a deep understanding of the Catholic faith, but without an axe to grind or an agenda to push,” he said. “It will not be easy, but it will be worth every ounce of effort, energy, and candor we can muster.”

Last week, Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette called for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to consider hiring an outside investigator to find out “who knew what, and when” over the McCarrick affair.

Prayers and apologies to survivors of abuse were “necessary, but not sufficient”, the bishop said, adding that people deserve to know how Archbishop McCarrick’s alleged misdeeds went unreported for so long.

“There is evidence that various people made allegations and had reported them in the United States and in Rome,” he added. “What has gone wrong? We deserve to find out.”