AP

US Catholic Bishops Convene To Confront Sex-Abuse Crisis

Jun 11, 2019, 3:49 PM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 5:05 pm
Becky Ianni, center, a victim of priest abuse, holds a picture of her younger self along with other...
Becky Ianni, center, a victim of priest abuse, holds a picture of her younger self along with other demonstrators outside the venue where the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 2019 Spring meetings are being held in Baltimore, Tuesday, June 11, 2019. Ianni says she was 8-years-old when the priest of her family parish began to abuse her. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

BALTIMORE (AP) — The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops convened a high-stakes meeting Tuesday under pressure to confront the child sexual abuse crisis that has disillusioned many churchgoers, with one scholar warning: “We find ourselves at a turning point, a critical moment in our history.”

How the bishops confront the problem “will determine in many ways the future vibrancy of the church and whether or not trust in your leadership can be restored,” Francesco Cesareo, an academic who chairs a national sex-abuse review board set up by the bishops, said as the four-day gathering began.

Key proposals on the agenda call for compassionate pastoral care for abuse victims, a new abuse reporting system, and a larger role for lay experts in holding bishops accountable. Votes on the proposals are expected on Wednesday and Thursday.

The deliberations will be guided by a new law that Pope Francis issued on May 9. It requires priests and nuns worldwide to report sexual abuse as well as cover-ups by their superiors to church authorities.

Advocates for abuse victims have urged the U.S. bishops to go further by requiring that suspicions be reported to police and prosecutors, too.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the bishops’ conference and head of the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese, said he is optimistic major progress will be made this week. He commended the pope for laying out some worldwide guidelines for combating abuse while giving leeway for the U.S. bishops to work out the details.

Among the agenda items is a proposal to create an independent, third-party entity that would review allegations of abuse. Cesareo said all abuse-related allegations concerning bishops should be reported to civil authorities first and then to a review board.

The bishops will also be voting on a proposal to encourage — but not require — the involvement of lay experts in handling significant abuse allegations.

Cesareo said that including the laity is critical if the bishops are to regain public trust. Otherwise, he said, it’s essentially “bishops policing bishops.”

A national survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center illustrates the extent of disenchantment among U.S. Catholics. The March poll found about one-fourth of Catholics saying they had scaled back Mass attendance and reduced donations because of the abuse crisis, and only 36% said U.S. bishops had done a good or excellent job in responding.

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, an authoritative source of Catholic-related data, 45% of U.S. Catholics attended Mass at least once a month in 2018, down from 57% in 1990.

By the center’s estimates, there were 76.3 million Catholics in the U.S. last year, down from 81.2 million in 2005. The church remains the largest denomination in the U.S.

Events of the past year have posed unprecedented challenges for the U.S. bishops. Many dioceses have become targets of state investigations since a Pennsylvania grand jury in August detailed hundreds of cases of alleged abuse.

In February, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington was expelled from the priesthood for sexually abusing minors and seminarians, and investigators are trying to determine if senior Catholic officials covered up his transgressions.

Another investigative team recently concluded that Michael Bransfield, a former bishop in West Virginia, engaged in sexual harassment and financial misconduct over many years.

Even DiNardo, who heads the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese, has been entangled in controversy. Last week, The Associated Press reported a Houston woman’s claim that he mishandled her allegations of sexual and financial misconduct against his deputy.

The archdiocese said it “categorically rejects” the story as biased. However, the archdiocese later said it would review the married woman’s allegations that the deputy, Monsignor Frank Rossi, continued to hear her confessions after luring her into a sexual relationship, a potentially serious crime under church law.

DiNardo, at a news conference Tuesday, defended his actions in Houston and the bishops’ efforts to restore credibility.

“The Houston situation strikes me as very distinctive. I have very intense disagreements with what has been presented,” he said. “But from our own local church, I’ve tried to be very straightforward with my people. … We need to put together, for lack of a very word, a package — a whole way in which we deal with the issues of transparency.”

Catholic leaders argue, with some statistical backing, that instances of clergy sex abuse have declined sharply with the adoption in 2002 of guidelines for dealing with such cases.

“The Church is a far safer place today than when we launched the Charter,” DiNardo contended in a recent report. “Programs of background checks, safe environment trainings, review boards enforcing zero tolerance policies, and victims assistance require hundreds of dedicated, professional teams with child safety as their highest priority.”

Coincidentally, the second-largest denomination in the U.S. — the Southern Baptist Convention — also opened its national meeting on Tuesday, gathering in Birmingham, Alabama, with an agenda similarly focused on sex abuse. The SBC had 14.8 million members in 2018, down about 192,000 from the previous year.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

AP

A military medic makes coffee during a power outage at a frontline field hospital on December 05, 2...
JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press

Russia claims Kyiv hit its air bases, fires more missiles

Ukrainian drones struck two air bases deep inside Russian territory, the Kremlin said Monday, shortly before Russian forces unleashed a massive missile barrage in Ukraine that struck homes and buildings and killed civilians.
24 hours ago
Kirstie Alley enters the Celebrity Big Brother house at Elstree Studios on August 16, 2018 in Boreh...
Associated Press

Kirstie Alley, Emmy-winning ‘Cheers’ star, dies at 71

Kirstie Alley, a two-time Emmy winner who starred in the 1980s sitcom “Cheers” and the hit film “Look Who’s Talking,” has died. She was 71.
24 hours ago
Celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti walks out of a New York court house after a hearing in a case w...
AMY TAXIN, Associated Press

Avenatti sentenced to 14 years in California fraud case

Incarcerated lawyer Michael Avenatti has been sentenced in Southern California to 14 years in federal prison for cheating his clients out of millions of dollars.
24 hours ago
(U.S. Marshal's Service)...
STEFANIE DAZIO, Associated Press

Man who shot Lady Gaga’s dog walker gets 21 years in prison

The man who shot and wounded Lady Gaga’s dog walker and stole her French bulldogs last year has taken a plea deal and was sentenced to 21 years in prison.
24 hours ago
NASA's Orion spacecraft beamed back close-up photos of the moon and Earth on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. ...
MARCIA DUNN AP Aerospace Writer

NASA capsule flies over Apollo moon landing sites, heads home

NASA's Orion capsule is on its way home from the moon to wrap up a three-week test flight. The capsule and its test dummies came within 80 miles of the far side of the moon Monday.
24 hours ago
PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 14: A right wing activist wearing a 'LAKE FOR GOVERNOR' hat stands on the si...
JONATHAN J. COOPER, Associated Press

Arizona certifies 2022 election despite GOP complaints

Arizona’s top officials have certified the midterm election results, formalizing victories for Democrats over Republicans who falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged.
24 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
US Catholic Bishops Convene To Confront Sex-Abuse Crisis