Ten years ago this month, U.S. Catholic bishops gathered in Dallas for a historic meeting to discuss what to do about the exploding priest-abuse scandal that had erupted that year. Under the leadership of Utah's then Catholic leader, Bishop George H. Niederauer, the bishops approved a strongly worded document, Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, that set in place policies regarding abuse.
It called for a “one-strike” policy to remove priests credibly accused of a single act of abuse, as well as set up national and local review boards to assess whether or not bishops were following the rules regarding abuse allegations.
But has the system worked?
“After all was said and done in Dallas, the bishops exempted themselves from any real sanctions,” writes Religion News Service columnist David Gibson. “That self-absolution was considered outrageous at the time, and the passing years have not eased the anger. ... Concerns remain that a lack of bishops' accountability undermines the church’s credibility with the public or, worse, leaves children at risk.”
The problem, Gibson argues, is that bishops do not police their own peers. They are answerable only to the pope – who “holds his fellow bishops in such high regard, and is so leery of undermining tradition and authority, that he has taken little action to rebuke those who have been lax on abusers.”
The bishops are meeting next week in Atlanta, where they will hear the National Review Board's progress report on the handling of the crisis.
“Some are hopeful that those suggestions might include measures for policing the bishops,” Gibson writes. “But it would still be up to the bishops themselves to give those policies some teeth.”
Peggy Fletcher Stack