Lay Review Board Calls for Accountability, Makes Recommendations
“The exercise of authority without accountability is not servant-leadership; it is tyranny.” In a clarion call to a church structured too long without channels for accountability, the National Review Board’s Report released February 27, 2004, issues a challenge to all and a dire warning if its recommendations are ignored. The National Review Board, composed of twelve lay professionals and experts, was charged by its charter from the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2002 with undertaking a comprehensive study of the causes of the crisis of sexual abuse of minors. As search for causation gives way to yearning for some form of legitimate closure, recommendations laid out in three major areas of concern take on added significance.
First and most prominent in the study’s findings: the crisis is “one of the episcopacy as much as it is crisis of the priesthood.” This translates into actions and attitudes of the bishops that played a decisive role in the abuse scandal. The report highlights several underlying dynamics, including addiction to secrecy, especially manifested in the transfer of priests known to be sexual offenders, along with attitudes of superiority and exclusion of priests and laity from knowledge and decision making that was rightfully theirs. Another hallmark of episcopal culture identified negatively is the substitution of career advancement for genuine pastoral concern and communication with brother bishops, priests and the people.
The report recommended greater sensitivity in responding to allegations of abuse, in following up allegations and in listening, through established deliberative bodies such as diocesan pastoral councils, to the real concerns of the people. The study strongly suggests lay participation in the selection of bishops as well as holding those bishops guilty of the transfer of priest-abusers fully accountable. Presently the policy of zero-tolerance for offending priests is being questioned by some bishops. A policy of zero tolerance for guilty bishops has yet to be proposed and its absence sends a glaring message.
The report finds seminary admission and educational practices at fault. Applications dwindled over the last fifty years, and men who never should have been in seminaries were admitted and advanced. More studies and better screening need to be put in place so that celibacy will be an appropriately undertaken state, not an intolerable burden. Serious in-depth studies are needed to establish the relationship of immaturity to sexual misconduct and to identify other causative factors.
Finally, the body of canon law in this area is inadequate to just and timely disposition of cases of sexual abuse of minors. Diocesan canonical tribunals lack the expertise needed to handle these cases. Appeal to the Vatican is too slow and too uncertain. At the present time, funding for the National Review Board mandated by the
charter has yet to be approved by the bishops. Four members of the National Review Board, including the interim chairwoman, are slated to resign by the end of June.
The poetry of the great English Catholic writer, G. K. Chesterton, pictures us as being too often “sieves that hold the sand and let the gold go free.” At this pivitol point none of us can afford to let a golden challenge slip away unstudied, unpracticed and unfulfilled. We need to unite, lay and ordained together, complete the works of justice and begin restructuring the church we have loved.
ED note: For a brochure summarizing the National Lay Review Board findings and recommendations as well as suggestions for parish study and action contact Call to Action: 773-404-0004.