U.S. Bishops to Elect New Leaders, Mark Abuse Reform Milestone

The U.S. Catholic bishops begin their fall meeting on Monday and will elect new leaders — a vote that could indicate whether they want to be more closely aligned with Pope Francis’ agenda or not.

Several of the 10 presidential candidates for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are part of its powerful conservative wing and have not fully embraced some of the pope’s priorities, such as focusing more on the marginalized than on battles against poverty. culture.

The USCCB will also mark the 20th anniversary of its enactment of policies designed to stamp out sexual abuse and abusers in the priesthood — steps enacted amid the searing scandals of 2002 when the Boston Globe exposed widespread abuse and cover-up.

Outside groups are calling on bishops to use the anniversary to renew their efforts to help survivors heal from abuse, increase lay involvement and consider issuing a new apology to victims.

But the official highlight of this week’s meeting in Baltimore is the election of the next USCCB president, who will succeed Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles.

This is usually a formality, with bishops elevating the vice president of the conference to the position. But this year’s election is wide open because the current vice president – Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron – will soon turn 75, making him ineligible to serve.

The 10 candidates range from the relatively moderate Archbishop Paul Etienne of Seattle to Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone, a staunch conservative. Cordileone made headlines this year when it banned Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a San Franciscan, from receiving communion in the archdiocese because of her support for abortion rights.

There is no clear-cut favorite, although some Catholic media on both sides of the ideological spectrum have identified military-service Archbishop Timothy Broglio as a strong contender.

The candidates were nominated by their fellow bishops, who bypassed several of their colleagues who were elevated to the rank of cardinal by Francis.

It remains to be seen whether the bishops will issue a new apology for the sexual abuse crisis at the meeting, but they have a time for prayer and reflection in keeping with the planned 20th anniversary of the charter. Bishops have expressed remorse for the scandal at various times over the past two decades.

A coalition of secular advocacy groups organized an online petition that garnered more than 1,100 signatures calling for a new apology.
The petition acknowledges the bishops’ public contrition of June 2002 in the preamble to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the document of the reforms they passed in response to the scandal. The petition also calls for an audit of a new system for reporting complaints against bishops — enacted in 2019 to fill an earlier loophole in the charter — and for lay people to play a greater role in such investigations.

While 20 years ago the bishops apologized for ‘too often failing the victims and the Catholic people in the past’, petition organizer Kevin Hayes says many don’t know or don’t remember. He cited Pope Francis’ trip this summer to Canada, where Francis said he was “deeply sorry” for Indigenous survivors of abusive and culturally destructive residential schools.

“This is a good opportunity to not only remind people that the bishops had apologized, but also to reaffirm those apologies,” said Hayes, of Catholics for Change in Our Church. The Pennsylvania group was created after a 2018 grand jury report into church abuse.

Gomez referred to the landmark year of June, the month the charter was adopted in 2002.

“This is not a moment of celebration, but a moment of continued vigilance and determination,” Gomez said in a statement. “We stand firm on Pope Francis’ commitment ‘that everything possible should be done to rid the Church of the scourge of child sexual abuse and open avenues of reconciliation and healing for those who have been abused.’

David Clohessy, a longtime leader of the Survivor Network of Those Abused by Priests, is not among those calling for a new apology.

“All the excuses on Earth don’t protect a single child. Promptly suspending abusers and harshly disciplining enablers, these measures both protect children now and help survivors heal.”

Steven Millies, an expert on the Catholic Church in the United States, called Gregory’s 2002 apology a historic moment and a powerful gesture, but said in an email that another highly visible one wouldn’t hurt , especially as revelations of abuse continue.

“It is a terrible mistake to treat the way the Church has failed its people as a solved problem, because it is not a solved problem, even as the Charter turns 20,” Millies said, professor of public theology at the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago.

He views the charter as a “good faith effort” by the conference, which he says has no authority but only “modest success” because each bishop decides how far he follows it.

Once the new president is elected, an outside Catholic group plans to send the conference a list of restorative justice proposals developed with survivors of clergy sex abuse who still love and participate in the church, Rev. Thomas Berg, member of the group and professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, said in an email.

Proposals include developing a national center to equip the church in restorative justice practices, creating a permanent healing garden, establishing an annual day of prayer and penance for healing and reconciliation , and launching trauma-informed training for clergy, lay leaders and others.

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