This week, I attended the meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore. We heard powerful testimony from victims. The wounds to the Body of Christ need to be healed. These wounds are not just the sins and crimes of clergy who abuse, but the bishops who failed in their pastoral and spiritual leadership.
The USCCB was considering several provisions to hold bishops accountable in order to rebuild trust among the faithful. One provision was to establish Standards of Accountability for Bishops, which would cover sexual abuse, sexual harassment or sexual misconduct by a bishop. Second, the establishment of a national mechanism to report complaints against bishops in the United States to an ethics hotline operated by an independent third party was announced. The third proposal was the establishment of a special national commission for the reception of complaints given to the ethics hotline.
Currently, bishops are held accountable to the pope through the papal nuncio, the Holy See’s ambassador to the United States. This new system would enable anyone to report a complaint against a bishop based on the Standards of Accountability for Bishops, and complaints against a bishop for not properly handling the misconduct of others within that bishop’s diocese. The system would relay complaints to a special commission, a body of six lay members and three members of the clergy. The proposal would enable the body to “investigate allegations against bishops and make necessary reports of the alleged violation to the competent civil and ecclesiastical authorities.”
Pope Francis has previously stated that “clergy and bishops will be held accountable when they abuse or fail to protect children.” Additionally, the Holy Father has stated, “the crimes and sins of sexual abuse of minors may no longer be kept secret.” The Congregation of Bishops from the Holy See asked that the U.S. bishops not vote on the Standards for Accountability for Bishops and the new commission. There will be a meeting of the presidents of bishop conferences from around the world to be held in Rome this February. That meeting will address how the Universal Church is handling abuse.
I fully support the standards and lay oversight of complaints against bishops. The Church and her mission are best served when bishops and laity work together. Further, I proposed a measure that was discussed, but not enacted, that the USCCB call upon the Holy See to release all documents that they can legally and canonically make available related to how Archbishop McCarrick was able to rise in the hierarchy, despite allegations being made against him for decades.
In the meantime the Diocese of Lansing, along with all the Michigan dioceses, are fully cooperating with an investigation of the state attorney general into the handling of abuse cases going back to 1950. The attorney general’s office was given full access to all of our clergy files. Many of those files are now in their possession. I have confidence in how our diocese has handled cases and welcome this review by civil authorities.
Previously, I announced that the Diocese of Lansing would have an independent audit of our handling of abuse cases, and that we will post the names of clergy who have abused minors on our diocesan website. It is still my intention to do that. Preparation for that work is under way, but is on hold while the attorney general’s office is in possession of our files and conducts its investigation.
I am committed to placing victims of abuse first. I repeat my apology to them and I am sorry that these crimes occurred. I recommit to continuing the ongoing measures of removing from ministry anyone who has abused a minor. We have a zero-tolerance policy regarding those who have abused minors. We conduct background checks and train Church workers on how to detect and report such abuse. We employ a victim assistance coordinator and utilize a review board made up of lay professionals to review allegations of such abuse. We have a third-party operated hotline to report abuse.
Sin can enter into the human heart at any time. However, these measures have made a positive difference in protecting our youth from abuse. We are not aware of anyone in active ministry in the Diocese of Lansing who has abused a minor. We have not had an incident of a cleric sexually abusing a minor since before the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults was adopted on 2002. For recent acts of clerical abuse and harassment against adults, we remove clergy who have credible allegations against them and investigate. Those instances are made public on the diocesan website. I thank victims who come forward, and encourage anyone who has been harmed by someone in the Church to do so.
The wounds to the body of Christ caused by the sins of sexual abuse will not heal until the truth comes out and those responsible are held to account. Jesus tells us the truth will set us free. No matter how painful the truth, we should not fear the truth coming out. Justice for victims demands it. Christ will bring healing for his body, our Church. Our hope is in Christ. May God lead me and my fellow bishops to be the shepherds God intends. May all of us fix our hearts and minds on Christ so his body can fully be the Church God intends.
+Bishop Earl Boyea