To be Credible, Bishops Must Give Lay Review Boards Real Authority
In response to the U.S. Catholic Bishops newly issued charter and norms addressing clergy sexual abuse, FutureChurch cofounder Fr. Lou Trivison noted: I think that overall the Bishops made a good faith effort to correct past mistakes. Trivison praised the public discussion and vote on national television as a first since such sensitive issues are usually dealt with behind closed doors.
I am especially pleased that the Bishops listened to the survivors, publicly asked for forgiveness and pledged to report all allegations to civil authorities in the future.
However, the U.S. Catholic Bishops policies for addressing sexual abuse of minors by priests, deacons and other church personnel will only be as credible as the amount of real authority given to each diocesan lay review board said Sr. Christine Schenk, director of the Cleveland based FutureChurch after returning from the Dallas meeting. I am happy that the Bishops supported a national review board to monitor diocesan compliance said Schenk however we are concerned that penalties for failure to comply were not identified. Neither did the Bishops discuss sanctions for Bishops who knowingly transferred pedophile priests. These should have been included in the charter.
In the final analysis, given canonical restrictions which require all laity to serve only in an advisory capacity, credibility and trust will be restored only to the extent to which Bishops allow lay advisory boards to be truly policy making. It will be up to ordinary Catholics and the media to monitor whether there is any real improvement or not, said Karen Leith a FutureChurch board member who also attended the Dallas meeting. We plan to ask our members and all faithful Catholics to become pro active in their dioceses in assuring that the lay review boards have real authority so that the new norms are implemented, said Schenk.
But according to Trivison it must not end there: Ultimately, Bishops must heed the voices of lay people and include them meaningfully on all levels of church decision making.
What Can We Do?
1. Find out what guidelines are in place right now in your diocese for addressing clergy sexual misconduct. If there are none, visit www. nccbuscc.org to obtain copies of the new charter and norms. If your diocese already has guidelines, find out how they differ from the new charter passed by U.S. Bishops.
2. Suggest that your diocese hold listening sessions about the new charter and norms. Ask your pastor to sponsor a listening session in your parish or deanery.
3. Discover how your diocese will be financially accountable and transparent by reporting attorney fees and settlement costs, etc.
4. Contact your Bishop and tell him how important you believe it is that penalties for Bishops who do not abide by the new charter and norms are identified at the November meeting of the Bishops conference. Let us know what kind of response you get.
5. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in participating in attempts to monitor implementation of the charter and norms in your diocese.
6. Continue to wear and distribute green lapel ribbons and prayer cards as signs of hope and healing for the church. E-mail email@example.com if you would like more green ribbons or prayer cards.