On June 20, the Archdiocese of New York announced that it had deemed credible an allegation that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick had serially sexually abused a teenage boy in the 1970s. Subsequent reports, however, allege that McCarrick had serially sexually coerced and assaulted seminarians and young priests during decades of his episcopal ministry in New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
Mechmann told CNA that the term "vulnerable adult" as his archdiocese defines it, "would not include seminarians. It is really aimed at protecting people who have developmental disabilities or cognitive disabilities, for instance someone who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease."
"A sound diocesan policy, however, would also encompass any kind of non-consensual sexual conduct, even if it is not strictly covered by the Charter," Mechmann added.
The Archdiocese of New York's "Policy on Sexual Misconduct" includes in its definition of sexual misconduct "any sexual act with another person without consent," as well as "any sexual conduct that is a violation of civil law."
Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the USCCB's office for child and youth protection, told CNA that several U.S. dioceses use the definition of "vulnerable adult" provided by civil law.
That definition often refers to a "dependent adult," he said.
Nojadera noted that "there is nothing in [the Charter] that talks about differential of power. So if you're looking at differential of power, that's not addressed in the Charter."
"That's where applicability of state law comes in, with regard to the differential of power. A lot of dioceses are looking at their state laws and trying to apply them accordingly," he said.
With regard to allegations of abuse involving seminarians and other adults, he said he thinks "it would be wise for those types of situations to also be brought forward" at the February meeting of bishops.
"I would hope that there would be a seat at the table for seminarians and for that issue to be addressed," he told CNA.
In addition to the abuse of minors, vulnerable adults, seminarians, and other adults, Nojadera noted other situations that could, in his view, be addressed, mentioning the difficulties faced by the children of priests, the use of corporal punishment in the Church, and situations involving religious orders.
He also mentioned the importance of consulting with victims of clerical sexual abuse.
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"I would hope that survivor victims were invited to this table as well, to be able to address [the meeting]," he said.
Nojadera said that his office often looks for insights from victims of clerical sexual abuse, calling their perspective "invaluable."
"There's an awareness that those who have not been abused do not have."
He also encouraged broader lay involvement in discussions about sexual misconduct in the Church. "The lay faithful have been offering to help and contribute to the solution to this," he said.
Nojadera said he hopes the February summit will take an expansive view of abuse-related problems in the Church.
"I think we have an opportunity here to just talk about abuse in general. Period."