Reporting hotline for complaints against bishops debated at USCCB meeting

CNS photo / Bob Roller.
CNS photo / Bob Roller.

.- A third-party complaint hotline could solve a major problem in the Church when it comes to reporting abuse - namely, that there is currently no procedure in place for filing complaints against bishops, Archbishop Jose Gomez said at the USCCB meeting Tuesday.  

“With this new system we are trying to address a problem…(Catholics) have no clear avenue to report allegations or complaints against bishops,” Gomez said.

“With the 2002 charter, there is a clear avenue for making complaints against priests or deacons through a diocesan coordinator,” he said. “But in light of recent events, we are now talking about complaints against bishops.”

Gomez addressed the U.S. bishops gathered in Baltimore Nov. 12-14 for their fall meeting.

The reporting hotline was presented as a discussion item, as part of a presentation of four proposals intended to help with the reporting and handling of cases of sexual abuse against minors, and the sexual abuse or harassment of adults, by bishops.

When introducing the session, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said the discussion was not meant to slight the authority of the Holy See, which has ordered the bishops to hold their final votes on such proposals until after a meeting at the Vatican in February. Rather, the bishops were merely discussing things in their immediate scope.

Those filing complaints are “understandably” concerned about how complaints against a bishop might be handled if they are filed directly to a diocese, Gomez said, and they may want to reach out to the U.S. nunciature or the pope himself, but not know how to do so.

The third party reporting system could help restore some trust and accountability regarding those complaints, Gomez said.

The hotline would receive complaints either through a toll-free phone number or online, in English or Spanish, and they could be filed anonymously, Gomez said. The person filing a complaint would be directed to a designated compliance official, and they would be given a tracking number so that they could follow the status of their claim.

The hotline would handle three kinds of complaints: those accusing bishops of sexual abuse of minors, those accusing bishops of the sexual abuse or harassment of adults, and those accusing bishops of mishandling complaints against other church leaders involving sexual abuse.

“All other kinds of complaints will be screened out,” Gomez said.

Gomez encouraged anyone with a criminal complaint to go to civil authorities, but said the hotline could help with the handling of harassment complaints, which are not always received by civil authorities.

Such reporting hotlines are already in place in many non-profits, including some dioceses, Gomez said. More resources and promotional information will be made available to the bishops once the hotline is ready to launch, he added.

Once the floor opened for questions and comments, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago reminded the bishops that they did make a commitment to apply the 2002 Dallas Charter to themselves when appropriate.  

“In cases of an allegation of sexual abuse of minors by bishops, we will apply the requirements of the Charter also to ourselves, respecting always Church law as it applies to bishops,” the Episcopal Commitment from 2002 reads.

“In such cases, the Metropolitan will be informed when an allegation has been made against a bishop (the senior suffragan bishop will be informed when an allegation has been made against a Metropolitan).”

Cupich noted that Cardinal Timothy Dolan followed this commitment in his handling of accusations of abuse against former cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

“It’s important to remember that we have this commitment already in place, not to quibble with this provision here, but to call us to that kind of responsibility,” Cupich said.

Fielding further questions and comments from the bishops, Gomez clarified that the hotline would accept complaints from everyone, such as parents or teachers or lawyers, and not just from victims themselves.

The cost of the hotline would be about $8,500 per year, including a $2,500 set-up cost, he said.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn expressed concern that the complaints would only be made anonymously, to which Gomez responded that eventually, some victims would have to make their identities known, because “an anonymous complaint is not going to go anywhere.”

Bishop Donald Trautman, who served as Bishop of Erie, Pennsylvania from 1990 until his 2012 retirement, commented that he thought the third-party reporting system was “dangerous and unjust” because it would bring to the U.S. nuncio accusations that were “not investigated, not substantiated, not proven. That’s unjust.”

The bishops then broke for lunch before reconvening about more abuse-handling proposals in the afternoon.

Tags: Catholic News, Accountability, Sex abuse, USCCB Fall General Assembly 2018