O'Malley introduces whistleblower system for complaints against Boston bishops

Cardinal Sean OMalley speaks with CNA in Rome on Feb 4 2013 Credit Stephen Driscoll CNA 2 16 16 Cardinal Sean O'Malley. | Stephen Driscoll/CNA.

The Archdiocese of Boston has announced it will implement a third-party system for reporting allegations of abuse or misconduct against bishops in the diocese.

Boston is the second archdiocese to announce such a system, after a proposed national reporting system for allegations against bishops was scuttled during a November 2018 meeting of the U.S. bishops' conference.

"I have decided to implement EthicsPoint, a confidential, anonymous and third-party system, exclusively for the reporting of misconduct by a Cardinal, Bishop or Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston," Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston announced in a March 8 letter.

"Since 2011 we have utilized EthicsPoint for concerns of potential ethics violations, financial improprieties, and other violations of the Archdiocesan Code of Conduct related to financial matters."

"Like the existing system currently in use, this will be web based and have a toll-free hotline to make a report. Reports will be sent to members of my Independent Review Board who will be charged to immediately notify law enforcement for claims of abuse as well as the apostolic nuncio; the diplomatic representative to the U.S. of the Holy See. The system will be hosted on secured servers at the EthicsPoint facility and is not connected to the Archdiocese of Boston website, intranet system or the existing EthicsPoint system currently in use. We anticipate the system being up and running soon and will provide more information at that time," O'Malley said.

The cardinal said that the importance of "an effective reporting mechanism when a Bishop or Cardinal has failed in his duty to protect children or has himself abused children or vulnerable adults" was discussed at a February Vatican summit focused on prevent child abuse.

The bishop said he believes the U.S. bishops conference will introduce a national reporting procedure at some time, adding his desire to "address this need immediately for the Archdiocese of Boston."

In November, the U.S. bishops' conference was stopped by the Vatican from voting on proposals that would have created a nationalized third-party whistleblower system for reporting allegations against bishops, and a lay-led independent commission for investigating those allegations. The Vatican said it had not had sufficient time to review the proposals ahead of the scheduled vote.   

The Archdiocese of Baltimore announced a whistleblower hotline for complaints against bishops in January, as well as a plan for the archdiocesan independent review board to receive complaints and forward them to appropriate civil authorities.

When O'Malley announced Boston's system, he also said that the Vatican's abuse summit had pointed to the importance of hearing from the victims of clerical sexual abuse.

"The way forward for the Church is to hold as a priority the voices and experience of survivors, to keep them close to every step we take and make all possible efforts to provide the means for them to be heard."

"In Boston we will continue to provide pastoral care and counseling for survivors. We will continue to carry out programs of prevention and education in our schools and parishes. We will continue to do background checks annually for bishops, priests, all archdiocesan personnel, and all volunteers who work with children and young people," the cardinal added.

O'Malley faced criticism last year, after it was reported that he had received a letter raising concerns about laicized bishop Theodore McCarrick's sexual misconduct with seminarians, and did not respond by forwarding it to the proper ecclesiastical authorities. The cardinal apologized for the way that letter, and others like it, were handled in his office.

The cardinal said that he left the Vatican abuse summit "convinced that no bishop could possibly say that his diocese is not affected by these issues or that this is not a problem in his country and culture. Patience among our people and in the wider community is exhausted and understandably the call is rising for effective action."

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