It's Up To Us Now (USCCB General Assembly Day 3)
Happy Wednesday everyone!
It’s been a long three days, but I hope that my coverage of the USCCB General Assembly has been helpful to you in some way. Obviously, there’s a LOT that was discussed at this meeting, but you can check out other news sources to learn more about the rest of the content. My focus was specifically on observing what was said - and not said - about the abuse crisis and what that tells us about how the bishops are approaching this next phase of response.
(If you have not read my previous posts on this subject, I recommend you start with What To Expect from the USCCB Meeting This Week and then check out the summaries from Day 1 and Day 2 before reading this post.)
I hope to soon write a piece reflecting on the conclusions I’ve drawn from watching this meeting, but for now, here are the highlights from today:
Good morning everyone! Here's the agenda for today. How I wish I could listen in on those private meetings this morning, especially the one among the metropolitans!
Public sessions start a bit later (11:00am EST) with a very important update on the third-party reporting system. I'll be back with you then!
A Little Refresher
This morning's public session will begin with a report from Cardinal DiNardo, presenting on behalf of the USCCB Executive Committee about the Implementation of Third Party Reporting Mechanism. I am very interested to hear what he has to say.
If you want a reminder about where things stood on this issue at the end of the last USCCB General Assembly, you can check out my post from June that explains the discussion that took place five months ago on this topic: What Did The Bishops Do Today? Updates from Day 2 of the June USCCB Meeting.
On the Hotline
Here's what happened with the update on the third-party reporting system:
DiNardo began by saying that "a lot has transpired" since the conference met in June. "Since much of this is procedural and a bit complex," he invited USCCB General Counsel Anthony Picarello to give the presentation.
Picarello reminded the bishops of what happened in June: the body of bishops approved the establishment of a third-party reporting hotline to receive reports related to Article 1 of Vos Estis and "channel them to appropriate ecclesial authorities." The body also approved the Administrative Committee to move forward towards implementation, with a firm deadline of launching by May 31, 2020 (as required by Vos Estis).
Picarello then reported on the decisions the Administrative Committee made at their September meeting. Bids were received from 3 different third-party vendors, and a 2 year contract was signed with the top choice, Conversant. Costs will be billed directly to dioceses, who should be receiving invoices soon.
The contract with Conversant provides for the system to be ready by the end of February 2020, with a possibility of activating as soon as March. The activation date is dependent upon the readiness of the 32 metropolitan bishops and the 32 senior suffragan bishops to begin receiving reports. The USCCB will be in touch with provinces to check on their readiness and find a consensus date for launch.
Picarello also reminded the bishops that this hotline is only "one small part of the broader Vos Estis system."
A Very Specific Purpose
Bishop Conlon of Joliet, IL posed the first question and said he was asking at the insistence of his metropolitan, Cardinal Cupich. Conlon stated that once this hotline is open, it will inevitably receive calls about all sorts of concerns (like "my priest didn't genuflect at the consecration this morning"). He asked how these type of calls will be processed.
Picarello said that there will be some filtering questions at the beginning of the reporting process, one of which is "Does this report pertain to the behavior of a bishop?" Filtering will also ensure that reports fall under Article 1 of Vos Estis - sexual misconduct or misconduct in oversight. Other concerns will be redirected back to the diocese.
They want to make sure that this hotline is "reserved for the very specific, high-priority purpose."
Here's the content of Article 1 of Vos Estis (from the Vatican website):
Article 1 – Scope of Application
§1. These norms apply to reports regarding clerics or members of Institutes of Consecrated Life or Societies of Apostolic Life and concerning:
a) delicts against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue consisting of:
i. forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts;
ii. performing sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person;
iii. the production, exhibition, possession or distribution, including by electronic means, of child pornography, as well as by the recruitment of or inducement of a minor or a vulnerable person to participate in pornographic exhibitions;
b) conduct carried out by the subjects referred to in article 6, consisting of actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil investigations or canonical investigations, whether administrative or penal, against a cleric or a religious regarding the delicts referred to in letter a) of this paragraph.
§2. For the purposes of these norms,
a) “minor” means: any person under the age of eighteen, or who is considered by law to be the equivalent of a minor;
b) “vulnerable person” means: any person in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want or otherwise resist the offence;
c) “child pornography” means: any representation of a minor, regardless of the means used, involved in explicit sexual activities, whether real or simulated, and any representation of sexual organs of minors for primarily sexual purposes.
Bishop Hartmayer of Savannah asked about how the launch of this hotline should be communicated to the faithful and whether this could be done in a uniform way across the country.
Picarello replied that communications would primarily be worked out at the provincial level, but that it would be possible for the conference to provide resources to assist. He also called forward someone from the Communications Office, who explained that the conference is working on templates for communication that could be used by dioceses.
The theme of these materials will be "A Call To End Abuse," encouraging people to make two calls - the first to police and the second to this hotline. The materials will also explain the specific scope of this hotline and specify that it does not replace other reporting mechanisms already in place at the diocesan level.
What About Religious Superiors?
Bishop McKnight of Jefferson City brought up the fact that Vos Estis also outlines the need for reporting mechanisms for religious superiors, not just bishops. How will this be handled?
Picarello acknowledged this point but said that a canonical determination was still needed to address that matter.
It’s On the Metropolitans Now
Cardinal DiNardo wrapped up the discussion about the reporting hotline by saying that the metropolitans have lots of work to do in their own regions to be prepared for implementation.
"Metropolitans need to do our work well," he stated. He also emphasized the need to move quickly - "Our people are looking forward to this. We need to work out how to do it."
That was the end of this topic. Now on to more reports…
An Important Reminder
The remainder of this morning's session included various reports:
Bishop Fabre of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism
Sean Callahan of Catholic Relief Services
Sister Donna Markham of Catholic Charities
Anna Marie Gallagher of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network
Jean Kelly of the National Council of Catholic Women
I know that things feel pretty dark in the Church right now, but listening to these compassionate presentations was a beautiful reminder of all that is still good in the Church. There is so much really important work being done by Catholics in this country and around the world. I am grateful for the reminder.
And with that, we've reached the end of the public portion of the USCCB Fall General Assembly.
The session wrapped up with a few final reflections from Cardinal DiNardo as he finishes his term, then words of thanks from Archbishop Gomez to DiNardo for his years of service.
Of note: Gomez thanked DiNardo for several highlights of his presidency, including his "commitment to accountability and the protection of minors."
There is a final press conference beginning soon, so stay tuned for one last update.
Here’s Where Your Concerns Are Addressed?
The final press conference included one question about the third-party reporting hotline, from a journalist who asked about how the existence of this hotline would be communicated to the public.
Bishop Burbidge, Chairman of the Committee on Communications, replied with this answer:
"That's the whole key, that's the whole idea... We have this system in place, to make sure it's well known and so people who have concerns do not have a difficult time in bringing forth their reports. So the conference will assist dioceses in that, but it will be the responsibility of the local diocese to come up with the ways they're going to make this known. So, we're already suggesting, and some things are already in place. We'll use social media; we'll use our diocesan website; we'll use our diocesan publication. Not just one way, but as many ways as possible to say 'Here's the process; here's where your concerns are addressed.' And we'll learn from each other what is most effective."
It’s Up To Us Now
Other press conference questions were focused on Catholic Relief Services' commitment to Catholic moral principles, call out culture and forgiveness, and the possibility of the proposed diocesan assessment increase being approved through the votes of absent bishops. The bulk of the time was spent discussing how the Church can increase belief in and devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
One thing to note about these press conferences: At the last two USCCB meetings since the abuse scandal re-emerged, there have been numerous reporters from secular media outlets asking hard questions, particularly about the abuse crisis and bishop accountability.
At this conference, the reporters were (as far as I could tell) exclusively from Catholic media. These reporters did still ask some pointed questions about a variety of topics discussed at the conference, but I think it's certainly a loss that the secular media was not present to be engaged in the conversation.
All the more reason that we Catholics need to keep talking about the issues of abuse and cover up in our Church. We need to make sure that this issue doesn't just fade into the background again, as it has done in the past.
It looks like this is as far as the USCCB is going to go. It’s up to us now.
When I prayed with the daily Scripture readings today, I was particularly struck by the first reading, from the Book of Wisdom. I don’t share these verses as a condemnation of all bishops - Watching the USCCB meetings has really helped me see these men as individuals, rather than some homogeneous whole, and I truly believe that there are some who are fighting hard for what’s right. But these words from Scripture give us something worth pondering none the less.
"Hear, O kings, and understand; learn, you magistrates of the earth's expanse!
Hearken, you who are in power over the multitude and lord it over throngs of peoples!
Because authority was given you by the Lord and sovereignty by the Most High,
who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels.
Because, though you were ministers of his kingdom, you judged not rightly,
and did not keep the law, nor walk according to the will of God,
Terribly and swiftly shall he come against you, because judgment is stern for the exalted–
For the lowly may be pardoned out of mercy but the mighty shall be mightily put to the test.
For the Lord of all shows no partiality, nor does he fear greatness,
Because he himself made the great as well as the small, and he provides for all alike;
but for those in power a rigorous scrutiny impends."
- Wisdom 6:1-8
Lord, guide each one of us to judge rightly and walk according to the will of God. Amen.