BALTIMORE – As the bishops of the United States continued their Fall General Assembly in Baltimore Tuesday, the leaders of the National Advisory Council delivered a report to the conference, telling bishops of the “depth of anger” felt by the council members over recent scandals.
The council meets ahead of the annual sessions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to review and vote on the proposed action items to be put before the assembly, offering their opinion on the priorities of the conference.
The council chair, Father David Whitestone, delivered his report to the conference November 13, telling them that the council session, held September 6–9, came hard on the heels of the scandal of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and the release of the 11-page testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.
It was, Whitestone said, a “unique” gathering, unlike any of their previous meetings.
“We are facing painful times as a church, and this was reflected in our meeting,” he told the conference.
“The depth of anger, pain and disappointment expressed by the members of the NAC cannot begin to be expressed adequately in words.”
The council is composed of 35 members chosen to reflect the profile of the church in the United States, including laypeople, religious and clerics from across the country.
The bishops listened as they were told that while the anger of the council was a sign of love for the church, the “sinful acts committed by priests and bishops, and then covered up or tolerated by bishops, does grave harm to the church.”
Whitestone said that there was an urgent need for the American bishops to show true repentance which “includes not only an acknowledgment of the precise nature of past sins, but a firm purpose of amendment.”
The NAC considered a range of action items intended for consideration by the USCCB members this week, but, Whitestone said, the whole council abstained from voting on items unrelated to the abuse crisis — even when they would otherwise have strongly supported them.
This, the bishops heard, was “a way of expressing [the NAC’s] belief that there is no single issue more pressing than the crisis we are now experiencing.”
This crisis, Whitestone said, concerned both “the reality of sexual abuse” and “the lack of episcopal transparency and accountability.”
The members of the NAC broadly supported the proposed plans which the bishops had intended to debate and vote upon in Baltimore, prior to Monday’s surprise intervention by the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops which prevented the U.S. bishops from voting on either the proposed Standards for Episcopal Conduct or the creation of an independent commission for examining accusations made against bishops.
Whitestone expressed his disappointment that these action items had now become mere points for discussion. “These action items proposed concrete actions and not simply expressions of sorrow and vague promises to do better in the future.”
The NAC’s chair-elect, retired Air Force Colonel Anita Raines, told the conference that members had considered a recommendation that the 2002 Statement of Episcopal Commitment be updated and amended in the light of recent scandals but had rejected it unanimously, instead voting in favor of the proposed new standards of conduct, noting that deacons, priests and laypeople often had to sign similar pledges of right conduct as part of their employment in different roles and that bishops should be held to a higher standard.
Raines told the bishops that the NAC had voted unanimously in favor of a national audit of seminaries to investigate the extent of “predatory homosexual behavior.” Independent investigations into homosexual misconduct are underway at seminaries in Newark, Boston and Philadelphia.
Finally, Raines said, the council called for a full, independent investigation into Archbishop McCarrick, with the results made public. This investigation, Raines said, should answer basic questions still unaddressed by the church hierarchy, including what care was given to McCarrick’s alleged victims, who authorized and knew about settlements paid to victims, and what sanctions may have been imposed on McCarrick and when.
Raines told the bishops that these basic steps were necessary for “restoring faith and trust in the episcopacy.”
Raines and Whitestone were given a standing ovation by the conference.
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