By the Most Rev. Alexander Sample, Archbishop of Portland 12/3/2018
I have recently returned from the annual fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It was at this meeting that the U.S. bishops were prepared to address in a strong manner the current crisis in the Church, a crisis that revolves around the bishops themselves and the negligent handling of cases of sexual abuse and misconduct in the past.
Judging from all of the mail I have received over the crisis, the lay faithful were rightly demanding a response and action on the part of the bishops. What in fact transpired at the meeting left many disappointed, including myself. In this column, I will try to explain what happened.
The U.S. bishops had developed a plan of action that they were prepared to vote on that would have charted a way forward. I went back and looked at what I said in my first letter to the people of the Archdiocese of Portland over this crisis, in which I laid out what I thought needed to be done to address the current crisis and what we needed to do in moving forward. As I studied the plan proposed by the leadership of the USCCB, it hit all of my points except one, namely a thorough and transparent outside investigation of the Archbishop Theodore McCarrick scandal. I will come back to that.
The plan proposed by the bishops included four components:
• A code of standards of episcopal conduct and accountability. This would have essentially voluntarily placed each bishop under the same standards and accountability that are already in place for priests and deacons in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. This code goes even further as it would have covered not only the sexual abuse of a minor by a bishop, but also sexual misconduct by a bishop with an adult, sexual harassment of an adult by a bishop, and the mishandling of allegations of misconduct received by bishops against priests, deacons or other bishops. Each bishop would have signed a personal pledge to live by these standards and procedures.
• A completely independent third party reporting system to receive any allegations of violations by a bishop of the above described code of standards. This would essentially have been a confidential way for anyone wishing to bring an allegation forward by using a toll free number or web access point. This “hotline” would operate independently from the bishops.
• The establishment of a lay led commission for the review of complaints against bishops for violations of the standards for episcopal conduct described above. This also would have been a separate commission established as a civil 501.c.3 and completely independent from the bishops. They would conduct a preliminary investigation into the allegation and make a report to the papal nuncio.
• A new protocol regarding restrictions on bishops who were removed from or resigned their office due to the sexual abuse of minors, sexual misconduct with adults, or grave negligence in office.