U.S. Catholic bishops gathered Monday in Baltimore to start their three-day national assembly, intent on addressing the clergy sex abuse crisis.
The Vatican thought otherwise.
Archbishop Christopher Pierre, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, warned of supporting outside lay investigations, even as the bishops were planning to establish a lay commission to investigate misconduct, and as more than a dozen U.S. states and the federal government conduct ongoing criminal and civil investigations.
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org accused the Vatican of “again trying to suppress even modest progress by the U.S. bishops.”
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Closer to home, and on a better note, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg continues to make progress on addressing the scandal, which was revealed in horrifying detail this August through a grand jury report. It alleged that some 1,000 children have been abused over six-plus decades by about 300 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses.
The Harrisburg diocese, albeit in anticipation of the report but before it, released a list of clergy and seminarians accused of sexual abuse of minors. The list remains available at www.youthprotectionhbg.com.
As part of the same process, the diocese ordered removed “from any position of honor throughout the diocese” the names of any of the accused as well as the name of every bishop since 1947, the beginning date of the grand jury investigation. That included removal of Cardinal William H. Keeler’s name from the diocese’s headquarters near Harrisburg.
Last week, there was more progress. The Harrisburg diocese announced the development of a survivors’ compensation program that will be operational early next year and will be led by attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who specializes in administering similar types of victims’ programs, including the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Importantly, the diocese says the resources for this program will not be coming “from the money that is generously donated to local parishes and to the diocese.” Instead it will come from the diocese’s reserve, “unrestricted diocesan accounts,” the yield from diocesan investments, and insurers. Clearly some of those funds originated with the “generous” local parishes anyway, but it seems the diocese is intent on separating what it will pay victims from the money its members are giving currently.
One important remaining issue in reaction to the grand jury report is whether Pennsylvania lawmakers will take up legislation next year on reforms that include creation of a two-year window permitting those victims timed-out of the legal system a chance to file civil suits. We encourage further pursuit of this change in law, which stalled this fall over constitutionality concerns.
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The Harrisburg diocese and state lawmakers have been forced by the grand jury report to take action, long overdue, in addressing clergy abuse. But at least progress is being made, and there is a better sense of transparency for local faithful. It’s unfortunate the same can’t be said about the worldwide leadership of the Catholic church.