Sexual misconduct with adults next scandal facing the U.S. Church

As the U.S. bishops prepare to meet next week for their general assembly in Baltimore, they must be hoping it won’t be a repeat of this one.

The bishops were hoping to finalize a tough new policy on child sex abuse and - even more importantly - abuse cover-up, after the Vatican put a halt on the issue during the USCCB’s fall assembly last year. Since then, there has been a Vatican abuse summit and new legislation from the Vatican to battle abuse and cover-up, meaning the possibility of a “good news” ending to the meeting was in the cards.

But now new scandals are likely to overshadow the meeting.

At the beginning of this week, the Associated Press published a story about a woman accusing a top official in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston of sexual misconduct. This story was followed by a Washington Post report on a confidential investigation into impropriety under Bishop Michael Bransfield in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. On Thursday, Crux came out with a story about how various Church institutions passed the buck when a seminarian complained about sexual abuse at the national seminary in Washington, DC.

These stories did not involve the abuse of minors, but did involve sexual impropriety with adults. This means the bishops will be trying to find a solution to one systematic crisis, just as another one is exploding in the papers.

Sexual misconduct with adults is a broad area of offense, especially for a celibate clergy. It can include anything from a brief fling with a willing partner to a sexual assault. Current Vatican legislation generally only covers “vulnerable adults” - that is, those without the full use of reason, although Pope Francis’s most recent law - released in May and called Vos estis lux mundi - defines a vulnerable person as “any person in a state of infi...

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