Prominent Catholics see larger role for laity


An independent laity run board that would hold bishops accountable for their actions, a national day for Mass or prayers of reparation, and encouragement to parishioners to become more involved in their diocese are among steps suggested by prominent lay Catholics to right the U.S. church as it deals with a new clergy sexual abuse scandal.

“Their credibility is gone and the trust of the faithful is gone,” Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, said of the U.S. bishops as they worked to develop steps to promote greater accountability on abuse.

The National Review Board, established by the bishops in 2002, oversees compliance by dioceses with the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

It has no role in oversight of bishops.

“The bishops have to put their trust in lay leadership and allow that lay leadership to develop the processes and oversight when these kinds of allegations occur, particularly holding bishops accountable,” Cesareo said.

In a presentation at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spring general assembly in June in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Cesareo cautioned the prelates against complacency in meeting the charter’s requirements.

He said that auditors preparing the 2016-2017 annual report on the charter’s implementation nationwide discovered signs of complacency in some dioceses and eparchies.

“I’ve been addressing the body of bishops four, five times. I’ve driven the point that they can’t be complacent, and here we are again with another crisis,” Cesareo said.

“We went through the crisis in 2002 and had good policies and procedures in place, and allegations and current abuse have gone down,” he said.

“But when we see the bishops don’t get it, that there’s still the notion of self-preservation at the expense of the victim … it just begs for lay leadership to come forward and to address this and help lead to healing.

“I really think that it’s a cultural change that has to take place. We can have all the committees, all the structures and all the policies, but there has got to be a cultural shift in the mindset of the bishops that they too are accountable, that they cannot be held to a different standard,” continued Cesareo, president of Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Cesareo was not alone in calling for a separate body to be established to handle accusations of abuse involving bishops.

While details varied, the basic premise envisions that such a board would review abuse allegations or complaints of improper handling of an abuse claim by any bishop.

Just such a body has been sought since 2002, when the abuse scandal arose in the Archdiocese of Boston, by the church reform group Voice of the Faithful, said Donna Doucette, executive director.

“Having accountability from the bishops is absolutely the key. It is not possible for the bishops to police themselves. We as an organization believe that there must be an independent lay-led and dominated board,” Doucette told CNS.

“It’s heartening that finally after all these years, and we hope it’s more than just verbiage, that the very things that the bishops attacked us for saying, they’re saying it now,” she added. Continue reading

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