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U.S. Bishops Grapple with Abuse Crisis at Annual Meeting

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November 15, 2018

The Bishops of the United States gathered at their Annual Meeting in Baltimore this week focused on one topic – how to hold themselves and brother Bishops accountable for the protection of minors from sexual abuse. 

But in a surprise announcement during the opening remarks, that goal was delayed by a request from the Vatican to hold off until a February synod in Rome in which Bishops from the entire world will gather to struggle with the issue together.

Despite the detour, the need to act was still very much on their minds:

“Brother Bishops, to exempt ourselves from these high standards of accountability is unacceptable and cannot stand,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “In fact, we, as successors to the apostles, must hold ourselves to the highest possible standard. Doing anything less insults those working to protect and heal from the scourge of abuse.”

It was not clear what concerned the Vatican about the proposed reforms but some insight came from the speech by Papal Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre:

“To regain trust it is not enough to simply preach words about responsibility, without living the difficulties of that responsibility, even in the face of criticism,” said the Archbishop.  “When it comes to the responsibilities, with which we are charged - with children and the vulnerable at the forefront - we must show that we can solve problems rather than simply delegating them to others.”

Even though the focus for reforms now shifts to the Rome meeting, the Bishops addressed several elements of the crisis, including:


  • A presentation by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ victim assistance coordinator on how to journey with victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.
  • While not voting on the proposals, the Bishops examined recommendations on actions such as a third-party reporting mechanism, standards of conduct for bishops and protocols for bishops resigned or removed because of abuse.  Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles outlined the proposals.
  • They heard reports from the National Advisory Council and National Review Board.


Calls were also very strong to “get to the heart” of the case of former Cardinal Theodore McGarrick who advanced in Church hierarchy despite a history of sexual abuse of seminarians and a minor.  “This is the one that needs to be addressed,” said Cardinal DiNardo. “It’s just bad for our people.”

In other business during the meeting, the Bishops approval a pastoral letter speaking out against racism (see more here) and elected new committee chairs.   Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco was elected chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage and Family Life, while Bishop Michael Barbour was elected chair of the Education Committee. 

Cardinal DiNardo closed the conference restating the commitment to do what is necessary to get to the bottom of the Archbishop McCarrick situation, to make reporting of abuse and misconduct by Bishops easier, and to develop a means of holding Bishops accountable that was genuinely independent, duly authorized and has substantial lay involvement.

“Brothers, I opened the meeting expressing some disappointment. I end it with hope,” he said.