US Catholic bishops convene to confront sex-abuse crisis
BALTIMORE – The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops convened a high-stakes meeting Tuesday under pressure to confront the child sexual abuse crisis that has disillusioned many churchgoers, with one scholar warning: “We find ourselves at a turning point, a critical moment in our history.”
How the bishops confront the problem “will determine in many ways the future vibrancy of the church and whether or not trust in your leadership can be restored,” Francesco Cesareo, an academic who chairs a national sex-abuse review board set up by the bishops, said as the four-day gathering began.
Key proposals on the agenda call for compassionate pastoral care for abuse victims, a new abuse reporting system, and a larger role for lay experts in holding bishops accountable.
Votes on the proposals are expected on Wednesday and Thursday.
The deliberations will be guided by a new law that Pope Francis issued on May 9.
It requires priests and nuns worldwide to report sexual abuse as well as cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities.
Advocates for abuse victims have urged the U.S. bishops to go further by requiring that suspicions be reported to police and prosecutors, too.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the bishops’ conference and head of the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese, said he is optimistic major progress will be made this week.
He commended the pope for laying out some worldwide guidelines for combating abuse while giving leeway for the U.S. bishops to work out the details.
Among the agenda items is a proposal to create an independent, third-party entity that would review allegations of abuse.
Cesareo said all abuse-related allegations concerning bishops should be reported to civil authorities first and then to a review board.
The bishops will also be voting on a proposal to encourage — but not require — the involvement of lay experts in handling significant abuse allegations.
Cesareo said that including the laity is critical if the bishops are to regain public trust. Otherwise, he said, it’s essentially “bishops policing bishops.”
A national survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center illustrates the extent of disenchantment among U.S. Catholics.
The March poll found about one-fourth of Catholics saying they had scaled back Mass attendance and reduced donations because of the abuse crisis, and only 36% said U.S. bishops had done a good or excellent job in responding.
According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, an authoritative source of Catholic-related data, 45% of U.S. Catholics attended Mass at least once a month in 2018, down from 57% in 1990.
By the center’s estimates, there were 76.3 million Catholics in the U.S. last year, down from 81.2 million in 2005. The church remains the largest denomination in the U.S. /gg
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