The U.S. bishops’ conference has announced new accountability measures in response to recent clerical sex-abuse scandals. The reforms include the establishment of an independent reporting mechanism to receive complaints against bishops, and the development of a Code of Conduct for bishops.
A statement released Sept. 19 by the USCCB’s Administrative Committee said that the new steps being taken to combat abuse are “only the beginning,” and that consultations were underway with laity, clergy, and religious on how better to “repair the scandal and restore justice.”
The Administrative Committee’s statement announced four key policies.
The first is the creation of a confidential, third-party reporting mechanism to handle “complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop.” This system, the statement said, will direct those complaints to the appropriate civil and ecclesiastical authorities.
The statement also said that the USCCB’s Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance had been instructed to develop proposals for policies to address restrictions on bishops who have either resigned or been removed following “allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.”
The Administrative Committee also announced it has begun a process for developing a Code of Conduct for bishops regarding the “sexual abuse of a minor; sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with an adult; or negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.”
Finally, the statement said, the committee supported a full investigation into the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, including the allegations made against him concerning the sexual assault of minors, adults, seminarians, and priests, and the Church’s response to those allegations.
“Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services,” the statement said.
Recognizing the widespread criticism of Church authorities in the wake of recent scandals, the committee said they “welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable.”
“This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop. We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the Church has been sufficient.”
The bishops also urged any victims of abuse to come forward, either to Church authorities or to civil law enforcement.
“To anyone who has been abused, never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement. If you don’t feel comfortable for any reason with the Church providing help, your diocese can connect you with appropriate community services. With compassion and without judgement, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.”
According to the statement, the committee met to discuss the proposals last week. The announcement also follows a Sept. 13 meeting between Pope Francis and senior U.S. bishops, led by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the bishops’ conference.
“Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole. They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others. They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers. For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed. Turning to the Lord for strength, we must and will do better,” the statement said.