WASHINGTON — Pledging to “heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us,” the U.S. bishops’ Administrative Committee Sept. 19 outlined actions to address the abuse crisis, including approving the establishment of a third-party confidential reporting system for claims of any abuse by bishops.
It also instructed the U.S. bishops’ canonical affairs committee to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of abuse of minors or adults.
It initiated the process of developing a code of conduct for bishops regarding sexual misconduct with a minor or adult or “negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.”
The committee also stated it supported “a full investigation into the situation” surrounding Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, former cardinal-archbishop of Washington, “including his alleged assaults on minors, priests and seminarians, as well as “any responses made to those allegations.”
The statement, released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, came out of the committee’s semiannual meeting Sept. 11-12 at USCCB headquarters in Washington.
The Administrative Committee consists of the officers, chairmen and regional representatives of the USCCB. The committee, which meets in March and September, is the highest authority of the USCCB outside of the full body of bishops when they meet for their fall and spring general assemblies.
“This is only a beginning,” the committee wrote in its statement Sept. 19. “Consultation with a broad range of concerned parents, experts and other laity along with clergy and religious will yield additional, specific measures to be taken to repair the scandal and restore justice.
“We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable,” the committee stated.
The committee acknowledged its members had assembled for their meeting in Washington at a “time of shame and sorrow.”
“Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole,” the committee said. “They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others. As the initiatives get underway, the Administrative Committee asked all U.S. bishops … to join us in acts of prayer and penance.”
“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. Scripture must be our guide forward. ‘Be doers of the word and not hearers only,’” the committee stated, quoting the Letter of James.
“For survivors of sexual abuse, these days may reopen deep wounds. Support is available from the Church and within the community,” it emphasized.
The committee reminded all in the Church that victims assistance coordinators are available in every diocese to help victim-survivors and their families find resources.
It stated anyone who has been abused must “never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement.”
Since the bishops first adopted “the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” in 2002, the committee stated, “hundreds of dedicated people … have been working with the Church to support survivors and prevent future abuse.”
“If you don’t feel comfortable for any reason with the Church providing help, your diocese can connect you with appropriate community services,” the committee said. “With compassion and without judgment, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us.”