Bishops to consider sex-abuse reforms
As U.S. Catholic bishops gather for their national assembly this week, the clergy sex-abuse crisis dominates their agenda amid calls from critics that church leaders finally bring about meaningful reforms to root out misbehaving priests.
The three-day assembly that will start Monday in Baltimore comes after a series of abuse scandals this year that have been stunning in their magnitude and number.
Bishops have several reforms under consideration to respond more strongly to the scandals, but some Catholic activists are demanding further steps.
The abuse crisis is foremost among challenges confronting Catholic leaders, who also face pressures on the role of women and LGBT people in the church.
The president of the bishops’ conference, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of GalvestonHouston, asked his fellow bishops to spend the preceding seven days in “intensified” prayer, fasting and reparation.
The bishops will consider new steps to police their own ranks during abuse cases, and will likely approve an investigation by lay lawenforcement experts into the scandal surrounding the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
“Bishops are under intense scrutiny and pressure to deliver on both of these items,” said the Rev. Thomas Berg, admissions director at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York.
The bishops will consider several proposals approved by a committee in September. They include developing a code of conduct regarding sexual abuse and harassment, and establishing a confidential hotline to receive allegations of sexual misconduct and relay them to appropriate authorities.
Critics have urged the bishops to go further by allowing outside investigators full access to church sex-abuse records. Another recommendation suggests all bishops become mandatory reporters of suspected sexual abuse.
The abuse crisis overlaps with increasing tensions in the U.S. Catholic church over its approach to LGBT people, both in the degree to which it welcomes congregants and the presence of gay men in the priesthood.
The role of women in the church is similarly contested, with several U.S. groups urging the Vatican to allow women to become priests.