The first is sincere expression of authentic contrition, sorrow, and regret. This is what many Catholics say has most been lacking in recent months.
We live in the age of the image- of the cultural and visual meme- and bishops seem to be expected to understand this. This means that expressions of contrition are expected to be more than words offered between explanations and calls for new policy. Catholics- especially young Catholics- say they are looking for simple, direct, and straightforward apologies, followed by signs of repentance.
Sackcloth and ashes may not prove necessary, but humility and authenticity will. Some have suggested Masses celebrated solemnly and penitentially with victims. Others have suggested public and personal pilgrimages and acts of repentance. The form matters. But what seems to matter most to many Catholics is hearing, and seeing, that bishops are genuinely horrified by things that have happened among their own brothers, and on their watch, and that they perceive and admit a sense of personal responsibility.
The second thing Catholics seem to be calling for is open disclosure of the Church's problems, and consistent lay involvement in the adjudication of clerical personnel issues. This call is for a broad culture change. A call for transparency, openness, and direct lay involvement in handling priest personnel issues is, in short, a call for a rejection of the clericalism that, by many accounts, is endemic among bishops, without ideological or generational discrimination.
In short, many Catholics have told CNA in recent weeks that they hope their bishops will invest in a renewed sense of collaborative and missionary leadership, and that such an investment will require eschewing the common perception that bishops must be primarily overseers of diocesan business and administrative affairs.
But meaningful lay involvement in personnel matters is a difficult thing for the Church to mandate, beyond the existing requirement for diocesan review boards, because of the Church's theological understanding of the governance ministry of bishops, and because lay professional Church administrators can become as institutionalized as clerical collaborators, and can be, for reasons of job security, reticent to blow the whistle when bishops act negligently.
Without clear guidelines and some protections for employees, "lay involvement" can easily become a kind of Potemkin consultation, where lay people are around, but decisions are mostly made after they leave the room.
To encourage broader and more meaningful lay involvement in episcopal decision-making, the Church would likely need to develop a means of listening to existing lay ecclesial administrators, considering their concerns, and training bishops for meaningful engagement with lay collaborators.
But more than any particular model, combatting clericalism seems to require bishops who are allergic to clerical insularity, and intolerant of it among their priests.
There are bishops in the United States who, by many accounts, embody and exhibit that approach to episcopal leadership. It remains to be seen whether they will emerge as leaders in the months to come.
Finally, Catholics seem to be calling for a plan to address sexual immorality among the episcopate, in seminaries, and among priests. Across ideological perspectives, there seems in recent weeks to be a recognition that predatory sexual behavior of any kinds is enabled by environments in which priests are not formed for chastity, and in which clerical obligations of continence and chastity are not taken seriously. Proposals for new episcopal oversight committees, for new review boards or charters have largely been panned.
What bishops will have to determine is how they can express a profound and serious commitment to sexual morality among clerics without seeming to abdicate their responsibilities, focus unduly on response rather than prevention, or pay only lip service to the development of healthy and chaste sexuality.
The challenge is going to prove incredibly difficult.
There are several things that could derail the bishop's efforts to restore trust in the Church, and to move forward from the crisis point the Church has reached.
The first is the threat of litigation. The effect of the fear of litigation on some parts of the Church can not be overstated, and there are actually some good reasons for this.
Bishops who genuinely want to do right by victims, and are genuinely incensed over clerical sexual abuse, still have reasons- good and bad- to fear the prospect of litigation.
Bishops are responsible to be the stewards of the resources their dioceses have accumulated for the work of the Church- for sacred worship, for education and formation, and for works of charity and mercy. They are eager to see that Catholic apostolates not be shuttered or sold, even when they are sincerely sympathetic to the suffering of victims, and especially because they recognize that a significant portion of money extracted from the Church will go not to victims, but to attorneys. And, even in Pennsylvania, bishops who face litigation today usually are asked to be responsible for bad decisions made by their predecessors.
Bishops have also pointed out that the Church sometimes faces inequitable laws with regard to litigation, that laws which protect public institutions but not the Church have made it a particularly attractive target for plaintiff's attorney. There is legitimacy to that claim.
The Pennsylvania grand jury has called for a tort claims window that would allow alleged victims whose claims are impeded by the statute of limitations a period of time in which to file lawsuits. The Pennsylvania legislature is likely to take up that cause, and other state legislatures will likely follow suit. Bishops have argued in the past that statutes of limitations exist for good reason; that claims exceeding those statutes can not be seriously investigated or defended against. This, some have argued, means that cases exceeding statutes of limitation invariably lead to settlements, even when facts are scant. In many states, those arguments have kept tort claim window legislation at bay.
In Pennsylvania at least, the momentum from the grand jury report may make it difficult for the Church to oppose, or to even to be seen to oppose, such legislation.
How that will impact the bishops' response to this crisis remains to be seen. Concern for litigation has, in the past, tempered expressions of episcopal contrition, sometimes even beyond recognition. That fear colored and characterized a great deal of the Church's response to the sexual abuse crisis of 2002, and, as several dioceses have since gone into bankruptcy, closing ministry centers, parishes, and charitable works, the fear has likely been heightened for some bishops since then.
The second factor that could impact the bishops' response to the current crisis is overreaction to criticism that they are not acting quickly or rigorously enough. In the months to come, bishops will face serious pressure within their own dioceses to give evidence of their zero-tolerance of abuse of any kind. Several priests have told CNA that they are concerned that fear could lead bishops to "scapegoat" priests- to single out priests accused even of non-criminal moral failures, to publicly disclose the private lives of priests, or to otherwise violate the canonical rights of priests, including their rights to due process, in order to appear tough on abuse. Some priests have noted the experience of this kind of practice in their own dioceses in 2002 and 2003, and suggested it was an impediment, rather than an aid, to real reform.
A third thing that could derail serious ecclesial reform has to do with the call for episcopal resignations. Wuerl, in particular, has been the subject of ongoing calls for resignation, along with other bishops. While the Holy See might judge those moves to be justified, they could have the unintended effect of stalling more systematic and cultural change, if they are not managed carefully. If individual bishops resign, and are then cast as the cause of the problems, the pressure for broader reforms could deflate. The Vatican must ensure that if it accepts the resignation of some bishops, the remaining members of the episcopate remain under pressure to enact the reform efforts the USCCB has said it would like to facilitate.
The grand jury report's language is unambiguous, its analysis is direct: the report is emphatic in asserting that systematic patterns of negligence have allowed sexual abuse to take root in the Church.
"Failure to prevent abuse was a systemic failure," the report said, "an institutional failure." There seems to be broad Catholic agreement with that claim.
This October, Cardinal Wuerl is scheduled to publish a book entitled: "What do you want to know? A pastor's response to the most challenging questions about the Catholic faith."
In recent weeks, Wuerl has gotten an answer to his question: Catholics want to know what he and other bishops knew, what they're really sorry for, and what they're going to do about it.
It remains to be seen whether answers to those questions will be forthcoming.
[ed. note: Subsequent to the publication of this analysis, the Diocese of Rockville Centre provided CNA with a statement. The analysis was amended on Aug. 20 in light of that statement. CNA did not contact Bishop Barres for comment prior to the analysis' publication, and offers an apology to the bishop for that oversight.]