Call for lay catholics to investigate bishops

A commission of lay Catholics to investigate his “brother bishops” has been called for by US Bishop Edward Scharfenberger.

He wants a national, independent panel of expert lay faithful — completely separated from any source of power in the Church that could exert influence on them — to investigate the bishops.

The panel should be commissioned and “duly approved by the Holy See,” he says.

Scharfenberger, who is a canon lawyer, was a member of Brooklyn diocese’s review board for sexual abuse of minors.

His call follows allegations that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington, sexually abused minors and adult seminarians for decades.

Once the allegations were made known to him, Pope Francis removed McCarrick from his ministry. He has ordered McCarrick to live “a life of prayer and penance” in seclusion.

Although McCarrick’s successor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, has suggested the US Conference of Catholic Bishops create a panel of bishops to look into any allegations of sexual misconduct by its members, Scharfenberger says this is not the answer.

Instead, the panel needs to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised if it’s to have any credibility.

Rather than bishops, lay catholics “without an axe to grind or an agenda to push” should lead an investigation with transparency — “the scope of which is not yet defined but must be defined,” Scharfenberger says.

“What is needed now is an independent commission led by well-respected, faithful lay leaders who are beyond reproach, people whose role on such a panel will not serve to benefit them financially, politically, or personally.

“As the Holy Spirit impels me, I will use every power my office holds on all levels at which I serve, local and national, to further this charge.

“We bishops want to rise to this challenge, which may well be our last opportunity considering all that has happened.”

Scharfenberger’s call for the laity’s involvement in investigations is strengthened by his concern that several bishops knew but did nothing about McCarrick’s sexual predations on seminarians and young priests under his authority.

Scharfenberger says this is “spiritual incest.”


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