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What Did The Bishops Do Today? Updates from Day 2 of the USCCB Meeting

Updated: Jun 14, 2019

Thank you to everyone who has been following along with my Facebook updates on the second day of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops General Assembly. I appreciate all the thank yous, likes, and comments that help me know that my efforts are worth it! If you find this coverage helpful, please do share with others you think might be interested.


In case you had something else to do today besides follow me on Facebook, here’s a quick compilation of all today’s posts to make it easier for everyone to catch up. (Also, if you didn't see yesterday's compilation post, you can find that here: In Case You Missed It - My Updates on Day 1 of the USCCB Meeting. For my summary of the final day of the meeting, please read And That's a Wrap - Updates on the USCCB Meeting Day 3.)


Introduction


Good morning friends! Welcome to all the new folks who have joined the In Spirit and Truth community in the last few days. My goal with this ministry is to help lay people be informed and empowered to work for the reform and renewal of our Church; understanding what our bishops are doing is an important part of that mission.


The bishops will be spending this morning in regional meetings and province meetings, which are not open to the press. Coverage begins with an Instagram Live at 12:00 EST, so I'll check that out before we move on to the debate and vote on various action items. Just FYI, it looks like the most important abuse-related action items are not on the agenda until tomorrow, so today might be a lighter day.


(Note: Something must have gone wrong with the Instagram Live thing, because it never happened. Oh well.)


Some Light Reading


In Spirit and Truth is a place for people who are not afraid to wade into complexity, question assumptions, consider many perspectives, and most of all, seek the truth, however uncomfortable it might be.


I always encourage folks to get a broader view than just what I'm writing, so here are a few interesting articles and reflections about yesterday's proceedings at the USCCB:


Tuesday Night’s Facebook Live


Bishop Adam Parker of Baltimore and Bishop William Wack of Pensacola–Tallahassee answered questions on a Facebook Live last night. It's an interesting video to watch, and anytime bishops are taking questions from lay people and answering them without a "script," I think that is a positive step.


I was happy when they took my question, since it wasn't just a softball. (Honestly, these men are fairly low on the totem pole, so it's likely they don't have much influence beyond their own diocese, but it's good to raise the question wherever we can.)


My question (starting around 16:20 on the video) was this: "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."


Watch the video for the complete response from the bishops, but 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."


Some Happy News


The USCCB meeting is back in session. After prayer, there was an announcement of some positive news:


Father Augustine Tolton of Quincy, a former slave and the nation’s first black priest, was proclaimed “Venerable” today by Pope Francis, bringing Fr. Tolton one step closer to being declared a saint by the Catholic Church. Fr. Tolton faced discrimination and persecution by his fellow Catholics, but persevered in loving and serving the Lord.


Venerable Augustine Tolton, pray for us.


USCCB Strategic Priorities


Next up was a presentation from Archbishop Allen Vigneron on the Strategic Priorities for the 2021-24 USCCB Strategic Plan, which were created based on a survey of bishops and the National Advisory Council.


Note that they chose "Protect and Heal God's Children: Restore Integrity, Foster Virtue" as one of the top major priorities for the upcoming years. Vigneron noted that the specifics of this priority were developed in consultation with the National Advisory Council. He also emphasized that putting this item on the list of overarching long-term priorities for the USCCB ensures that this effort "doesn’t just become the work of one committee" but becomes a priority for the whole body.


These priorities were just approved (on a provisional basis to allow for a few minor edits to wording) with a vote of 213 - 8.


Quick Tasks


Next, three short business items:

  • A quick voice vote to allow Bishop John Doerfler of Marquette to advance the cause for canonization of the Servant of God Irving (Francis) Houle. (He sounds like a great example of ordinary holiness!)

  • Approval of the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, second edition.

  • Approval of the ICEL Gray Book translation of the Ordination of a Bishop, of Priests, and of Deacons.

Next up will be discussion and voting on action items related to the third-party reporting system of violations by bishops. I'll be paying close attention to this one.


Upcoming Action Items


The bishops are taking a short break right now and then they will discuss and vote on these action items:

  • ACTION ITEM 10a: Does the General Assembly authorize the design of a third-party system for receiving confidentially, by phone and online, reports of possible violations by bishops of Vos estis lux mundi?

  • ACTION ITEM 10b: Does the General Assembly authorize the Executive Committee to develop a more detailed proposal for a third party reporting system, including financial, structural, and other necessary adjustments to account for Vos estis lux mundi, for review and approval by the Administrative Committee at its September and November 2019 meetings?

  • ACTION ITEM 10c: Does the General Assembly commit to activating the third-party reporting system no later than May 31, 2020?

I'm interested to see how this goes…


Lawyer’s Presentation of the Third-Party Reporting System


General Council Anthony Picarello presented the action items regarding the third-party reporting system, which is a system that will be set up to receive allegations against bishops for violations of Vos estis lux mundi (Pope Francis' new laws for investigating and reporting abuse)


He explained that the bishops would be voting on:

  • Whether this reporting system should be set up at all

  • How the system will be set up (empowering the Executive Committee to work on the details for moving forward)

  • When the system will begin receiving complaints (no later than May 31, 2020, as required by Vos estis)

All three action items passed. More details about the discussion in my next few posts.


Yes, We Are Paying Attention


One thing I noticed during the discussion of the third party reporting system: Many of us often feel like our bishops simply aren't listening to the concerns of the people, that they're completely deaf to our complaints and questions. But as the bishops speak, I hear many of them referencing what "the people" want or will be satisfied with.

  • Bishop Conlon of Joliet brought up the need for adequate advertising about any reporting system, because "the last thing we want is to be accused of not being transparent" about the system that is being set up for transparency.

  • Archbishop Sample of Portland said that the bishops should clearly communicate that accusations against bishops can be reported any time, without needing to wait for this system to be set up, because "It’s important for our people to know that we’re not going to hold off."

  • Bishop Parker of Baltimore explained the reporting system recently set up in Baltimore and said "the people have received it extraordinarily well."

  • Bishop Tyson of Yakima emphasized the need to report to civil authorities before beginning any canonical investigation, saying "We wouldn’t want to be seen as tampering with police evidence."

A cynical person could say that the bishops only care about appearances, that these men should say, for example, "We wouldn't want to tamper with police evidence" instead of worrying about being seen as tampering.


A hopeful person could say that all of the people speaking up are making a difference, that our bishops are very aware that the people are watching, and that this awareness is pushing them to make better choices.


Either way, let's keep speaking out.


On Timing


The discussion about setting up the third-party reporting system also focused a lot on the timeline. When I saw that the resolution gave a deadline of May 31, 2020, I was rather disgruntled. The bishops have been talking about this since last September, and it's going to take them until May of next year to get started?!?


Several bishops, including Cardinal Cupich, Archbishop Sample, and Bishop Knestout, spoke about a need for greater urgency and raised questions about why this couldn't be implemented sooner. Cupich even referenced the speed at which corporations can get a hotline up and running after a crisis, asking why we couldn't do the same in the Church: "There’s an urgency to get this up and running as soon as possible. We want to get this done now."


In the end, Cardinal DiNardo agreed, saying "We want this thing done as quickly as possible,” but also reminded the assembly that "We have to have the metropolitans with us on this. We can only go as fast as the metropolitans go." He said that everyone could urge metropolitans to work quickly so that they will be ready to launch as soon as possible. The general counsel said that his office thought they could be ready to launch by the beginning of the new year, if the metropolitan dioceses were ready to receive reports at that point.


(At the press conference, Bishop Burbidge also reminded everyone that reports about bishops can still be made immediately; they would just go directly to the apostolic nuncio and the metropolitan, instead of using a third-party system.)


Sigh. Big institutions move very slowly.


On Reporting


Bishop Tyson of Yakima had my favorite comment of the day:


In the midst of the discussion about the process for receiving reports, he stood up to remind his fellow bishops - in polite words, of course - that of course, law enforcement should be notified BEFORE contacting a metropolitan. (The lawyer responded with an "of course, of course" kind of thing.)


Before sitting down, Bishop Tyson firmly reminded everyone that some states have laws that require reporting of criminal misconduct with adults as well as children.


I don't want to assume that this comment was directed at any other bishops in particular, but I sure was glad he said it.


Who Takes Care of Her?


Hartford’s Emeritus Bishop Rosazza (of the wonderful "what is Reddit?" exchange with Bishop Barron yesterday) was the only one today who brought up pastoral care for victims of sexual abuse.


In asking about the third-party reporting system, he mentioned a theoretical case of a 35 year old woman calling to report abuse that happened to her when she was 15. (Oddly specific details - I wonder if he has a real person in mind.) Her call is received by the third-party vendor on some national hotline; Rosazza asked, with some emotion in his voice, "What happens to her now? Who takes care of her?"


Good question.


(In terms of procedures, apparently the province receiving the complaint would also be the one tasked with pastoral care - But of course, she might not even be in the same state as that archdiocese. And with so many balls being dropped all the time in terms of caring for and communicating with victims, Bishop Rosazza's point is well taken.)


Audits


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.


As far as I know, there is currently nothing in any of the documents that requires an independent audit of these bishops-policing-bishop procedures.


Reporting System Implementation


Auxiliary Bishop Adam Parker of Baltimore seems to have a fire in his belly about this. I don't know much about him, but he's been 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.


Could we establish a system like that, where allegations against bishops go through a lay person (or even better, two or more people), so that we have at least one safeguard against a bishop just making allegations disappear? Of course, being a lay person doesn't guarantee that you are truly independent (especially if you have to be appointed by the bishop...), but it's something.


Does anyone know more about the implementation of this system in Baltimore? The metropolitan model is a go, regardless of my skepticism about it, so we at least need to think about how to make it as accountable as possible.


Press Conference


The press conference at the end of the day only had a few questions related to the abuse response. (The reporters seemed a bit more interested in engaging Bishop Barron about his presentation yesterday.)


Bishop Burbidge was asked this question: "How is this (meeting) going so far? Are you accomplishing what you wish to do? Do you feel a sense of urgency?" He responded "Yes, we’re here in Baltimore because of that sense of urgency. This work is essential, it’s urgent, and we must accomplish it. I’m pleased with the sense of momentum."


Very interesting question from JD Flynn of Catholic News Agency (a good reporter to pay attention to in all of this mess) - "We keep hearing the word 'transparency' but I wonder if the bishops and the people of God are using that word differently?" What do you mean when you say transparency?


Burbidge responded by explaining that "transparency is centered on communication, and healthy communication is central to every relationship." He spoke about giving information and updates as frequently as possible, but also referenced issues of confidentiality and due process.


Archbishop Vigneron jumped in to add this: "I am morally obliged to give an account of my leadership. I will give an account of the decisions I’ve made as far as I can. Giving an account for one’s decisions is a form of transparency."


Burbidge also added a note at the end of the press conference to assure people who are concerned about the slow timeline on the third-party reporting system that everyone involved will be trying to get it up and running sooner than next May. He also added: "It is important for the faithful to know that if there are any concerns, the mechanisms are (already) right there. If you need to call the civil authorities, call the civil authorities. If you need to call the metropolitan, call the metropolitan."


... And that's all for today! I'll head over to the Facebook Live at 7:00 EST and see if I can get another question answered today. Come on over to the USCCB Facebook page if you'd like to join in!


---


Lest we lose hope, let us pray for our bishops and our Church:


For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

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