Bish­ops to de­bate code of con­duct

Con­fer­ence sched­uled in Bal­ti­more next week

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Zauzmer Wash­ing­ton Post

WASH­ING­TON — Af­ter months of out­cry from Amer­i­can Catholics this year, de­mand­ing that bish­ops be held ac­count­able for decades of child abuse by priests, the bish­ops will meet in per­son for the first time for a days­long reck­on­ing about how to ad­dress the cri­sis.

In a highly un­usual move, the bish­ops will put aside al­most ev­ery­thing else on their agenda for the an­nual meet­ing of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops next week in or­der to fo­cus solely on rec­ti­fy­ing their poli­cies on abuse. The lead-

ers of all 196 U.S. arch­dio­ce­ses and dio­ce­ses are in­vited to at­tend the Bal­ti­more event.

Many bish­ops and lay lead­ers hope that they will emerge from the meet­ing with sweep­ing new pro­ce­dures in place, in­clud­ing a lay com­mis­sion em­pow­ered to in­ves­ti­gate abuse by bish­ops, a new code of con­duct and a plan for bish­ops re­moved from of­fice due to their han­dling of abuse.

“When we come out of the meet­ing and are able to com­mu­ni­cate what will be dif­fer­ent mov­ing for­ward, it’s my hope that all those who’ve been ask­ing for such con­crete steps will rec­og­nize: The bish­ops heard us,” said Bishop Michael Bur­bidge, who leads Vir­ginia’s Dio­cese of Ar­ling­ton. “We hear what you said, and we share those con­cerns. And we’re do­ing some­thing about it.”

That’s a lot to get done in one meet­ing. But be­fore the work be­gins, they will de­vote al­most an en­tire day of the three-day ses­sion in Bal­ti­more purely to prayer.

“All prayer. No agenda items. It’s just a day of prayer from morn­ing un­til night. I think that shows the im­por­tance, that we rec­og­nize that we need some di­vine as­sis­tance here,” Bur­bidge said.

The bish­ops have been a pri­mary fo­cus of Catholics’ anger this sum­mer and fall, start­ing with the re­lease of a ma­jor grand jury re­port in Penn­syl­va­nia in Au­gust. That re­port, which probed seven decades of church his­tory and found more than 300 priests had abused more than 1,000 chil­dren, drew at­ten­tion to the con­duct of bish­ops in the state’s Catholic dio­ce­ses, who some­times moved an abu­sive priest to an­other parish or let him re­turn to his min­istry rather than re­mov­ing him or re­port­ing him to po­lice.

In Penn­syl­va­nia, bish­ops’ names have been stripped from build­ings and rooms that once hon­ored them. Many of those bish­ops are de­ceased or re­tired, but not all. The cur­rent bishop of Pitts­burgh, David Zu­bik, was in­volved in church ad­min­is­tra­tion since the late 1980s and has faced calls for his res­ig­na­tion since the grand jury re­port.

Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl, whose ac­tions dur­ing his 18 years as bishop of Pitts­burgh were scru­ti­nized closely in the grand jury re­port, was the arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton when the re­port came out. Af­ter months of fu­ri­ous pres­sure from parish­ioners and highly in­volved Catholics in D.C. and Mary­land, Wuerl re­tired due to the con­dem­na­tion of his con­duct. (He re­mains the act­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Arch­dio­cese of Wash­ing­ton un­til Pope Fran­cis se­lects his suc­ces­sor.)

Across the coun­try, as more than a dozen states and a U.S. at­tor­ney have fol­lowed Penn­syl­va­nia’s lead and opened crim­i­nal or civil in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Catholic church since Au­gust, con­cerned Catholics have fo­cused their at­ten­tion on the con­duct of bish­ops. Many have called for in­creased par­tic­i­pa­tion of lay lead­ers to over­see the bish­ops’ con­duct. Some have raised the ques­tion of mass res­ig­na­tion of some of the long­est-serv­ing bish­ops, who have led the church since long be­fore the U.S. dio­ce­ses re­formed their poli­cies for han­dling abuse of chil­dren, in light of the Bos­ton Globe’s 2002 ex­posé of the wide­spread crimes. In re­sponse to th­ese calls for the re­form, the bish­ops will con­sider three new poli­cies at their meet­ing in Bal­ti­more.

First, they will de­bate whether to cre­ate a new com­mis­sion of lay peo­ple to in­ves­ti­gate com­plaints against bish­ops. The U.S. bish­ops al­ready have com­mit­ted to hir­ing an out­side ven­dor to run a hot­line for re­port­ing abuse, or mis­han­dling of an abuse case, com­mit­ted by bish­ops. If the bish­ops cre­ate this lay com­mis­sion, the hot­line also could fun­nel re­ports to the com­mis­sion, which would make rec­om­men­da­tions for dis­ci­plin­ing bish­ops when nec­es­sary, to the Vat­i­can’s am­bas­sador to the United States, who will re­fer the com­plaints to the bish­ops’ su­per­vi­sors in Rome.

Sec­ond, the bish­ops will con­sider a draft which would cre­ate a new code of con­duct for bish­ops, who cur­rently don’t have a writ­ten frame­work of pro­fes­sional ethics. The new stan­dards of con­duct could cover sex­ual re­la­tion­ships with adults and other ques­tions of abuse of power.

This pro­posal is likely to pro­voke the most con­tro­versy among the bish­ops. “I think the whole thing of a code of con­duct for the bish­ops to me is un­nec­es­sary. We have a code of con­duct — it’s called the gospel of Je­sus Christ. It’s called liv­ing a good, holy life,” said Bishop Christo­pher Coyne of Ver­mont’s Dio­cese of Burling­ton.

Af­ter a mo­ment of re­flec­tion, Coyne mod­i­fied his view. “I wish it wasn’t nec­es­sary, but it is. Given what has hap­pened in the past and has hap­pened cur­rently, it is.”

WASH­ING­TON POST FILE PHOTO

Car­di­nal Don­ald Wuerl, then arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., speaks about his ca­reer in March. He has since re­tired af­ter con­dem­na­tion over his han­dling of abuse al­le­ga­tions while he was bishop of Pitts­burgh.

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