Lay advisers urge US bishops to press for release of McCarrick documents

USCCB speaker CNA 2 Anita Raines, chair of the National Advisory Council, addresses the USCCB Spring General Assembly in Baltimore, Md., June 11, 2019.

Advisory bodies to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called Tuesday for the bishops to urge the Holy See to make public all documentation related to the misconduct of Theodore McCarrick, in accord with canon and civil law.

"We once again present a resolution related to the McCarrick scandal," stated retired Army Col. Anita Raines, Chair of the National Advisory Council to the U.S. Bishops (NAC), in her report to the U.S. Bishops' Spring General Assembly in Baltimore, Md., June 11.

"The NAC unanimously requests that the U.S. bishops exhort the Holy See to make public the results of diocesan and archdiocesan investigations of Theodore McCarrick."

Immediately afterward, the Chair of the National Review Board (NRB), a lay advisory group to the U.S. bishops on protecting minors from abuse, also asked the bishops to request the release of all documents relevant to the McCarrick investigation.

Referencing a resolution of the bishops at their annual fall meeting in November 2018 that called for the release of the documents – one that was ultimately rejected with concerns that it could be seen as opposing the Holy See – Cesario urged the bishops to press for the release of the documentation anyhow, stating that "the salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church," and that "care for your people must be at the forefront when dealing with this issue."

The 13-member NRB was constituted by the USCCB in 2002, after revelations of the sexual abuse of minors by clerics that spanned decades and which occurred around the country. The board advises the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The NAC meets ahead of the bishops' biannual meetings and considers their agenda for the meetings, offering support or criticism of each agenda item.

The chairs of both the NRB and the NAC addressed the Spring General Assembly of the U.S. Bishops, being held in Baltimore June 11-13.

In addition to calling for the publication of documents related to the Holy See's investigation of McCarrick, both advisory bodies expressed concern over the proposed USCCB directives for the implementation of Pope Francis' motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi as a response to the abuse crisis.

In particular, Raines said that the directives encourage the involvement of the laity by metropolitans in the investigations of sexual abuse allegations of bishops, but do not require such involvement of lay experts. In addition to the possibility of leaving out qualified experts from investigations, it would give the "perception of bishops investigating bishops," Raines said.

Cesario expressed similar concerns. "While the NRB commends the Holy See for taking such a strong step forward in terms of holding all clerics accountable for abuse," he said, the board "remains uncomfortable" with the model of metropolitans overseeing the investigations of abuse allegations against other bishops.

"This essentially remains bishops policing bishops," he said.

"Lay involvement is key to restoring the credibility of the Church," he emphasized. Leaving them out of the investigation process "would signal a continuation of a culture of self-preservation that would suggest complicity."

Among other requests of the NRB, Cesario cited the need for improvements and expansion of the audit process related to the Dallas Charter, and ensuring that it is truly independent.

The Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was drafted in 2002 as a response to the national revelations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics. The annual audit measures compliance with the charter's protective and preventative measures by Catholic dioceses and eparchies.

The current audit process is almost 10 years old, and needs to be more thorough, Cesario said.

"Any delay in revising the Charter or implementing an advanced audit would not only put children at risk," he said, but it "would signal a step backward."

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"Now is the time to raise the bar on compliance to ensure the mistakes of the past are not completed," he said, while insisting that a new process "would not be a 'gotcha' audit."

Historically, bishops have expressed concerns about the expansion of the audit process, warning that "audit creep" could pose privacy risks and step on their authority as bishops to oversee the implementation of the charter.

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