As the Vatican’s summit on sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy gets underway, leaders of 12 U.S. Catholic reform organizations have issued their advice to the bishops who will participate. In a letter sent to Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, one of four organizers of the meeting, the leaders acknowledged the “pain and disappointment” the abuse and cover up have caused for Catholics, and called on the bishops “to truly address globally what is broken, restore the trust of Catholics and give comfort and justice to those who have survived abuse.”
The letter outlined nine (9) specific steps these groups felt church leaders must take to rectify past failings:
Immediately report to civil authorities any credible accusation of abuse by priests or cover-up by the hierarchy.
Remove and prosecute all bishops who knowingly reassigned sexually abusive priests from their leadership positions, and take steps to ensure that those who are appointed have not engaged in criminal activity.
Categorically reject any proposal that places a metropolitan bishop in charge of oversight of clergy sex abuse cases. As Cardinal Cupich said, the bishops must “cede all authority” to people outside of the hierarchical system. Instead, create panels of lay experts to review and respond to all complaints of sexual abuse.
Open all files regarding sexual abuse at the Vatican, national bishops’ conference, and diocesan levels to review by experts.
Church leadership must make clear that there is no causal connection between sexual abuse and homosexuality.
Immediately cease efforts to block the lengthening of statutes of limitations on sexual abuse of minors.
Provide payment for counseling and financial compensation to anyone bringing forth any allegation(s) of sexual abuse by church staff that is deemed credible by an independent panel of expert reviewers.
Develop a process of public reconciliation where victims and survivors of abuse can speak clearly and directly to church leaders.
Make individual apologies to every victim and affected family.
“While Pope Francis has tried to reduce expectations for this summit, the truth is that the stakes are higher than ever,” said Deborah Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch. “Catholics, and especially abuse survivors and families of those victimized, have been reeling from the impact of revelations about clergy sexual abuse and the cover up for decades. Trust in church officials, who have often committed or covered up crimes, is at an all time low. It is critically important that this global meeting result in significant and decisive action.”
Kate McElwee, from Women’s Ordination Conference, added, “Our organizations have a variety of missions, but we all strongly believe that for our church to fulfill its mission, we must fully and finally have clear, universal standards and practices in place for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults in place. They must be enforced consistently, and church leaders must agree to external accountability measures. Our church leaders can no longer consider themselves above the law.”
“It is also important that the church atone for every incidence of abuse and cover up, including that of adults and religious sisters,” added Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA. “Church leaders must not attempt to scapegoat any group, including victims or gay people, for systemic failures. Our only hope to move forward is for Church leaders to accept responsibility and commit to dismantling the power structures that uphold inequality in the Church.”
The organizations’ leaders also urged Catholics to make their voices heard by supporting organizations such as SNAP (Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests), joining Time’s Up witnesses in their communities, participating in the March to Zero in Rome, wearing a blue armband on February 23rd, or sharing their concerns directly with their own bishops or the leaders of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The organizations and leaders who signed on to this letter are:
Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, Patrick Sullivan (http://www.arcc-catholic-rights.net)
Call to Action,Zachary Johnson (www.cta-usa.org)
Catholics for Choice, Jon O’Brien (www.catholicsforchoice.org)
CORPUS, National Association for an Inclusive Priesthood, Linda Pinto (www.corpus.org)
DignityUSA, Marianne Duddy-Burke (www.dignityusa.org)
FutureChurch, Deb Rose-Milavec (www.futurechurch.org)
New Ways Ministry, Frank DeBernardo (www.newwaysministry.org)
Quixote Center, John Marchese (www.quixote.org)
RAPPORT, Gloria Ulterino
Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Irene Senn (www.romancathoilcwomenpriests.org)
Sisters Against Sexism (SAS), Cheryl Nichols
Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER), Mary E. Hunt (www.waterwomensalliance.org)
Women’s Ordination Conference, Kate McElwee (www.womensordination.org)