USCCB to discuss abuse crisis and future priorities at Baltimore meeting

bishops Mazur/

The U.S. bishops' conference will convene in Baltimore this week, to discuss the ongoing clerical sexual abuse crisis, and to conduct the ongoing regular business of the organization. The meeting begins June 11.

The bishops are expected to debate and vote on a set of implementation guidelines for Pope Francis' Vos estis lux mundi, a May document that establishes a process for investigations of sexual misconduct or negligence in office on the part of bishops. The process entrusts to the "metropolitan" - the archbishop in each ecclesiastical 'province' - the task of investigating allegations made against bishops, and calls for both the involvement of lay experts and the establishment of third-party reporting mechanisms and other whistleblower protections.

The USCCB's implementation guidelines do not deviate dramatically from the norms established by Pope Francis, leaving most details of the process to metropolitans. While the document makes no direct reference to lay review boards, sources close to the USCCB have told CNA that bishops are expected to debate the degree to which their guidelines should call for the use of such boards during investigative processes.

The bishops are also expected to vote on a document of episcopal standards - a kind of non-binding episcopal code of conduct - and on a set of guidelines for how they should treat bishops who have been removed from office because of misconduct or negligence.

None of the documents under consideration related to abuse or sexual misconduct are potentially normative; all three would be intended as either guidelines or non-binding agreements among the bishops. The bishops are also expected to vote to establish a nationwide third-party

The debate over those documents will take place shortly after revelations that West Virginia's retired Bishop Michael Bransfield is accused of serially sexually harassing or assaulting seminarians and young priests, and that he may have attempted to cover up the misconduct through large gifts of diocesan funds to Vatican officials and brother bishops, including some in attendance at the meeting. Some of those bishops have said they intend to return those gifts.

USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, has also faced scrutiny in recent weeks, amid charges that the cardinal reassigned a priest accused of sexually coercing an adult female parishioner, after officials in his archdiocese

The bishops will also vote on a revised version of the national directory on the formation and ministry of permanent deacons, and a revision to the "U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults," designed to reflect recent changes to the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty.

In addition to reports on the bishops' working group for immigration, and their evangelization committee, the bishops will hear a report from the drafting committee of the USCCB's 2021-2024 Strategic Plan, which guides the allocation of resources and personnel, and vote upon the "Strategic Priorities" that will shape that plan.

The bishops will also be consulted on the cause for the possible canonization of Irving C. Houle, a lay mystic from Michigan.

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