One Small Thing You Can Do Today
I hear from lots of people who care about the crisis in our Church and want to do something to make a difference. Two important first steps are always prayer and becoming more informed, but beyond that, it can often be hard to know what any one person can do to help. Last month, I put together a list of suggestions for action on a personal, parish, and diocesan level. You can view that list here: What You Can Do: Practical Ideas for Responding to the Abuse Crisis.
Today, I’m going to propose one more small action you can take right now in light of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting that just wrapped up in Baltimore.
If you were reading my coverage throughout the meeting, I’m sure you noticed that there were a few bishops that impressed me with their efforts to bring more accountability and transparency to the processes being discussed. While I would have liked to see even more progress, I appreciate the efforts of bishops who spoke out to try to move things in a more positive direction.
So, I would like to suggest that our community offer some words of thanks to those bishops, to help them know that their efforts are noticed and encourage them to keep up the good fight.
I don’t presume to know that any of these bishops has a perfect record on addressing abuse or even that they are motivated by a true desire for change. But whatever their history or their motivation, they did make a choice to speak out in this context, and we can encourage them to keep doing so.
I know some of my readers are completely disgusted with the whole United States episcopacy and don’t want to say anything positive about any bishop. If that’s you, feel free to ignore this post. It’s just a suggestion.
If you are interested in joining me in this action, here’s what you can do:
Send an email to any or all of the bishops listed below. Your note doesn’t have to be long or complicated. All you need to do is tell the bishop that you know they were speaking up at the USCCB General Assembly, that you appreciate what they did, and that you encourage them to keep moving in that direction. (FYI, the formal address for a bishop is “Your Excellency,” but in these communications, I think it’s also fine to just start with “Dear Bishop ______.”)
A very simple template could be something like this:
Dear Bishop McKnight,
Thank you for your service to the Church. I am a Catholic laywoman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I care deeply about the response to the abuse crisis in our Church. I was following the events of the USCCB General Assembly, and I appreciated the way that you spoke up for greater lay involvement in the processes of investigating abuse. Please know that your courage and candor are greatly appreciated, even beyond your own diocese. I hope you will keep speaking up.
But please do write in your own words to be more effective!
I am listing 8 bishops below, along with the best way to send each of them an email. (Several of these bishops are also on Twitter, so you could contact them that way instead, if you prefer.) I am also including what I wrote about each of them in my previous blog posts, so you have something specific to reference when you write. You could also just write one generic message, then cut and paste to each of them. More personal is always more effective, but something is also better than nothing!
Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri
Send through his executive secretary at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bishop McKnight spoke strongly about the need for lay involvement: “We all feel the necessity when we go home of being able to tell our people, and especially our priests, that we have done everything we are able to do to respond to this crisis. I believe it should be mandatory that we involve laity in the investigation of any case of sexual abuse by a bishop or corruption or cover up involving the same. I believe we should do that because that’s the Catholic thing to do.” He then referenced the words of Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, which states that it is “not only the right but also the obligation of the laity to be involved in the most important matters facing the Church” and asked “Who can deny that this is the most important matter now of our generation?” (I wrote much more about Bishop McKnight’s excellent speech here.)
Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyoming
Use this contact form on the diocesan website
Bishop Biegler spoke out several time during this meeting, trying to suggest improvements to some of the proposals. He suggested an amendment that would require the entire report created by lay investigators about bishop misconduct to be sent to the Holy See (not just the metropolitan bishop's final assessment). During discussion of the “Acknowledging our Episcopal Commitments” document, Biegler pointed out language that outlined the responsibility of bishops to investigate “misconduct by bishops, priests, and deacons” and asked if it could be expanded to mention misconduct that might be committed by other church personnel, beyond clergy.
Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon
Send through his executive assistant at email@example.com
In discussion of the third-party reporting system, Archbishop Sample said that the bishops should clearly communicate now that accusations against bishops can be reported any time, without needing to wait for this system to be set up. "It’s important for our people to know that we’re not going to hold off." He also spoke up several other times to try to resolve practical details and advocate for more clarity and transparency.
Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima, Washington
Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
In the midst of the discussion about the process for receiving reports, Bishop Tyson stood up to remind his fellow bishops - in polite words, of course - that law enforcement should be notified BEFORE contacting a metropolitan. Before sitting down, Bishop Tyson firmly reminded everyone that some states also have laws that require reporting of criminal misconduct with adults as well as children.
Bishop William Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida
I asked this question on Facebook Live: "With the Muto Proprio's discussion of 'abuses of authority,' will there be more conversation at the General Assembly about defining what situations would constitute abuse of authority with adults? Concerned lay people are wondering when we will respond to abuse of seminarians, women religious, emotionally vulnerable people, and others." Here's the beginning of the answer from Bishop Wack: "Anytime a cleric has a relationship with someone outside of the vow of celibacy, that's an abuse. It's an abuse of power."
Auxiliary Bishop Adam Parker of Baltimore, Maryland
Email to email@example.com
Bishop Parker seems to have a fire in his belly about this. I don't know much about him, but he was pretty outspoken this week. As far as I know, the Archdiocese of Baltimore was the first place to implement their own system for reporting misconduct by bishops. In the midst of all the confusion today about how a third party reporting system might work, Bishop Parker stood up to explain the system set up in Baltimore using Ethics Point. I was particularly interested to hear that their system routes allegations directly to two members of the independent lay review board (not just to the Archbishop himself), who then convey it to civil authorities, the nuncio, and the metropolitan. Parker was also a participant in one of the Facebook live events and answered questions with compassion and candor.
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California
Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bishop Soto reminded everyone of the National Review Board’s recommendation that this system of oversight for bishops also should be audited; he asked if that could be included in the action item being voted on today. His question was brushed aside as something that could be outlined by the Executive Committee or looked at when the whole process is reevaluated after the three year trial period. He brought up this issue again near the end of the meeting, but momentum was rolling on towards wrapping up the meeting, and it was clear that no one was planning on entertaining any new ideas at this point.
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas
Send messages through his executive assistant: email@example.com
Bishop Strickland spoke after Bishop McKnight’s speech and began by affirming McKnight’s words. He then addressed the elephant in the Rome - the scandal of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and his continued rise to power. Strickland remind his brother bishops of the “two great bodies of the lay advisory, the National Advisory Council and the National Review Board” that spoke on Tuesday. He pointed out that both of those bodies expressed “a desire that a full reckoning of the McCarrick scandal be offered.” Strickland encouraged the Executive Committee of the USSCB to work with those lay bodies and to “pursue their strong recommendation and support the efforts to bring to light the McCarrick scandal issues as fully as possible.”
I hope you will take a few minutes to join me in this action. If you do write, and especially if you get a response, please let me know!
Be strong and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed,
for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go.
- Joshua 1:9