Catholic bishops stop short of mandating lay involvement in abuse investigations
BALTIMORE (RNS) — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has passed a slate of long-awaited measures designed to combat sex abuse and hold church leadership accountable for mishandling cases, including creating a national hotline operated by an outside group for reporting incidents of abuse or their cover-up.
“I’m confident that the idea of doing (investigations) in-house is long gone,” said a cautiously upbeat Cardinal Joseph Tobin of New Jersey after the reforms passed Thursday morning (June 13) — informed by a recent papal document — at the bishops’ spring meeting.
But the bishops stopped short of handing power to lay Catholics or abuse survivors in those investigations, sparking a debate that revolves around whether doing so would overstep guidelines outlined in a document issued by Pope Francis after a Vatican summit on abuse in February.
Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich and other clerics were able to insert language into the resolutions stating that metropolitan bishops — who would oversee the investigations of fellow bishops — “should” rely on qualified lay persons. The inclusion of lay people is also among a moral “commitment” the bishops adopted Thursday morning on how to deal with sexual misconduct.
But the language fell short of requiring bishops to take lay input, an important distinction that left victims advocates saying stronger measures are needed.
Other clerics, such as Bishop William Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Mo., made clear that they support lay involvement regardless.
“I believe it should be mandat...