Respectfully, Your Eminence, That Will Not Do

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, recently suggested that a board or panel be created whenever “sustained rumors” of abuse by a bishop are raised.

The reforms adopted in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002 and those adopted in the early 1980’s have resulted in dramatic decreases in the numbers of credible accusations of abuse, from hundreds every year in the mid-1970’s to an average of less than ten a year since the early 1990’s. While the Charter itself did not address penalties for bishops against whom credible accusations were lodged, a “Statement of Episcopal Commitment” adopted alongside the Charter called for bishops to report accusations against other bishops to the papal nuncio.

Cardinal Wuerl now speculates that a board or panel made up of bishops to address allegations made against bishops might be needed. Wuerl said, “I think it’s very important that we … as bishops enter into the world and say, ‘If there is an accumulation of rumors, ought not something be said?’ … Would we have some sort of a panel, a board, of bishops … where we would take it upon ourselves, or a number of bishops would be deputed, to ask about these rumors?'”

Respectfully, Your Eminence, that will not do.

The trust of the Catholic people in the bishops to, as you might say, guard their own house, is gone. The Catholic people are tired. We are aware of the abuse Abp. McCarrick carried out against children, seminarians, and priests. We are aware, too, of the fact that many people knew of McCarrick’s deeds and did nothing. Some of those who knew and did nothing were bishops, and bishops who are still in active ministry. As recently as 2015, a letter was addressed to Cardinal O’Malley of Boston, who has an exemplary record of addressing the abuse crisis, to inform him of concerns related to McCarrick’s abuse and nothing came of it. Cardinal O’Malley insists that his personal secretary never passed the letter on to him. The bishops cannot expect the Catholic people to continue to place their trust in the very ones who have let them down.

I agree that a panel or board ought to be formed to address reports of abuse committed by bishops. But, if that panel or board is to possess any credibility at all, it should be composed of laypersons, perhaps with priests and deacons, and no bishops. Some of those lay persons should be experts on abuse and some should be victims of abuse. All of those people ought to be committed to the full faith and moral teaching of the Church, especially the sexual teaching of the Church. But, to expect the Catholic people to put their trust in the bishops to govern their own is, frankly, to expect too much.

Edward Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany agrees.  “I think,” Bishop Scharfenberger writes, “we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer. To have credibility, a panel would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised.” Bishop Scharfenberger says it is time to call on the expertise of the lay faithful to recommend and put in place reforms that will restore the faith of the Catholic people in their leadership.

But, the situation calls for more than reforms that will ensure nothing like the horror of Abp. McCarrick’s abuse or the cover-up never occurs again. Those who knew of McCarrick’s crimes must suffer consequences for their malfeasance. If that means bishops, or even archbishops, removed from their positions, then so be it. It would be, in comparison, a small price to pay for the renewed confidence of the Catholic people in the United States in their episcopal leaders.

I encourage you to write Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to let him know your concerns and that real reforms must be adopted and real consequences suffered by those who allowed Abp. McCarrick to continue his rise in the Church even as evidence of his abuse was known.


Cardinal DiNardo’s address is:

His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo

Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

1700 San Jacinto

Houston, TX  77001-0907


You can read Cardinal DiNardo’s statement on the McCarrick case here.

You can read Bishop Richard Stika’s, bishop of Knoxville, statement on the McCarrick case here.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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