Originally published in USA Today.
Rarely do Americans pay attention to the biannual assemblies of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, but the gathering that starts on Tuesday in Baltimore will be different.
Millions of people, Catholic and not, are asking the same question: What new steps will the bishops take to clean up — or clean out — the church after years of sex abuse scandals?
This is a question the bishops take seriously. At its meeting last November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was ready to vote on measures that would increase accountability for church leaders. While the Vatican intervened at the 11th hour, it did so because it was preparing to release reforms of its own, which were unveiled in May.
The Vatican’s new policy is a big step in the right direction. Rome has also been working much closer with the U.S. church to penalize bad actors. But America’s bishops should see it as a starting point, not the final word. Building on Pope Francis’ good actions, the USCCB should pass long overdue reforms that give regular Catholics — known as “lay Catholics” — a greater role in keeping bishops and priests accountable.
Regular Catholics have historically been held at arm’s length by the bishops, even though the church has called for our role to be expanded in recent years. Yet regular Catholics are especially well-suited to holding the church’s leaders accountable. We have no institutional incentive to cover up sins and crimes, and we want the church to be healthy and holy.
The pope’s new policy provides a path forward. It explicitly allows the bishops to involve regular Catholics in investigations of church leaders. The USCCB can take this a step further by requiring that bishops bring regular Catholics into the investigative process.
The U.S. church already has a mechanism that can be modified for this purpose. More than 15 years ago, the bishops ordered the creation of “lay review boards” in every American diocese, charging them with the investigation of accusations of sexual abuse of minors by priests. If regular Catholics can help hold priests accountable, surely we can do the same for bishops. The bishops themselves increasingly want this.
Since the Vatican’s new policy puts investigations in the hands of regional archbishops, the USCCB should mandate that lay review boards assist every inquiry. If the archbishop himself is under investigation, the lay review board should be empowered to support whomever the Vatican appoints in his place. The bishops could also establish a new lay review board that includes representatives of all dioceses in the relevant geographic area or a national lay review board to handle all investigations, period.
Any of these options would give regular Catholics an opportunity to ensure the accuracy and exhaustiveness of any investigation. That’s what Catholics want — and that’s what the church needs.
Beyond accountability for themselves, the bishops should also give lay review boards the authority to investigate the full range of allegations against regular priests. Now, the boards cover only the abuse of minors, yet priests have also been known to abuse their power with older individuals. There’s strong evidence that priests who target teenagers also go after young adults (and vice versa). The allegations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, defrocked by the Vatican earlier this year, are perhaps the best known examples.
Given this fact, regular Catholics should be able to investigate all priests accused of breaking their vows of celibacy. It would be one more layer of protection for minors and vulnerable people.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is all but guaranteed to consider new reforms when it meets in Baltimore this week. There are hopeful signs it will give regular Catholics a greater role.
Now is the time for action and answers. America is watching and waiting for the bishops to do the right thing.
Tim Busch is founder of the Napa Institute, a Catholic lay organization.
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In the early 1900s in NY, a religious order new priest named Father Augustine Judge realized that Catholic “direction” doesn’t come from the Pulpit ... it comes only from the Pew (as discovered by a few Bishops about 50 years later in Vatican ll documents. As two OLAChurch.org Deacons taught “Vatican ll is for the Pew.” Father Judge (without permission) began to assemble Catholics and helped them organize to minister to people in need. When his Bishop and other Bishops discovered what he was up to, they had him assigned (banished) to some place called Alabama where there were so few Catholics he couldn’t do much harm.
However, the people were ready and before too many Bishops (today’s usccb.org) knew what he was doing, he founded a new order (first, Lay People than Priests and Nuns). Father Judge never left his Order, establish a new Order and caused unknowns in “the Pew” to serve people in need as Jesus’s “Followers of the Way” did including refusing to “pay for and prepare to kill and kill according to the 5th Commandment” until 300 years after Jesus when Roman Religion Bishops, jointly led by Roman Emperor Constantine and Pope Sylvester l, changed the 5th Commandment “Thou shall not kill” to “Thou shall not kill except those that need killing.” This “Roman Jesus Correction, together with “The Holy Roman Empire Jesus Correction” by Pope Leo lll (first) and Emperor Charlemagne 500 years later enables “Followers of The Divine Government Way” from 800 AD to 2020 AD and Forevermore to fulfill “Thou shall not kill except those that need killing.”
Speaking of Father Judge ... the Father of one of his Order’s Priest will be credited with Catholics and most people celebrating “The First Day of Life” together with “The Birth Day of Life” and “The Last Day of Life” which will almost eliminate abortions.
Thank you, Tim, for your article and suggestion for reform. Our family agrees totally with your recommendations as we also had with Mary Hanson, and professors of various seminaries. We continue with prayers and penance.
And how will this protect priests falsely accused? Word gets out to a lay board who aren't held to the same standard of "confessional secrecy" sensitivity that priests and bishops are consulted on how to best to address alleged abuse. Once an accusation is given over as a kind of public knowledge to this lay panel, whether guilty or innocent, that priest's life reputation is destroyed.
Excellent article. Hope it lights a fire in Baltimore!
WELL WRITTEN! NO AMBIGUITY IN ENTIRE MESSAGE! Thank you for all you do in OUR CHURCH...the CHURCH CHRIST ESTABLISHED & WALKED THE “SANDS IN GALILEE” FOR US TO BE ABLE TO GO INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD! * I HAVE WAITED 40 YEARS FOR THIS TO BLOW SKY-HIGH! MY BROTHER WAS ORDAINED FROM THE PAPAL SEMINARY (WORTHINGTON, OH) IN 1957 — TOP TIER OF SEMINARIANS FOR MONSIGNORS, CARDINALS, CHANCELLORS ETC. * IN 1978 “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL” PUBLISHED A FRONT-PAGE ARTICLE WHERE THE CHURCH HAD RE-ASSIGNED A PRIEST 13 TIMES...IN LA & TEXAS! FINALLY, A WOMEN TOOK HIM TO COURT & HE WAS SENTENCED TO JAIL! * I POSTULATE THAT THEY KNEW—BISHOPS, CARDINALS, PRIEST & SEMINARIANS KNEW! * I HAVE PRAYED 40 YEARS & AM NOW KNOWN AS “THE SECOND SAINT MONICA”
Such JOYOUS news! NOW! “Womanizing” Priests are ALSO being transferred after causing havoc to naive Women and Families in Parishes! May Our Heavenly Father and HIS Adorable Mother Mary Bless You and your endeavors !
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