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Catholic Groups State “What We Want From The Bishops” at Breakfast Meeting on Opening Day of Conference

June 10, 2002

A group of fourteen Catholic organizations and networks, responding to the crisis of clergy sexual abuse, have forged a joint statement of urgent actions that need to be taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The joint statement, full text below, makes specific recommendations about what the bishops need to do regarding survivors, priests and bishops who abuse minors, the abuse of power by church authorities, canon law, and changes to church structure. The group also recommends actions that individual Catholics must take to respond to the crisis. The joint statement will be presented to the media at an 8:00 am breakfast meeting on June 13, 2002, the opening day of the USCCB conference in Dallas.

How to Reform an Abusive Church

— A joint statement by Catholics concerned about clergy abuse —

Tragic, serious and numerous instances of clergy sexual abuse accompanied by the misconduct of some bishops and cardinals in addressing these crimes have resulted in a grave crisis of trust in the church.  Change is essential to protect children and youth and to ensure accountability by church authorities. We must redress past and present abuses, as well as prevent future abuses, both sexual misconduct and abuse of power. Most importantly, laity must lead the process and participate fully in final decisions about solutions. It’s our children, our faith and our resources that are at stake.

We appreciate the bishops’ advance release of a working draft of their charter and norms, which provides an opportunity for comment and correction.  The draft is but a small step toward correcting the problems of abuse.  As policy for the future, it must be substantially strengthened. As redress for past abuses, it fails miserably.  We, active and concerned Catholic individuals and organizations, make the following urgent recommendations.

Regarding Survivors – The Bishops Must:

    • Provide justice for all victims and their families. This includes public admission of liability, individual apologies, and financial compensation.
    • Renounce hardball tactics that diminish the dignity of victims and serve as obstacles to justice including:
      • Aggressive and abusive interrogation strategies
      • Claims to diplomatic immunity
      • Citing negligence on the part of parents
      • Destroying or withholding evidence
      • Blaming the victim, parents or family
    • Release officially all abuse survivors from any confidentiality agreement they were required to sign.  However, the bishops themselves should remain respectful and morally bound to commitments of confidentiality as they relate to survivor identities.
    • Endow independent review boards in each diocese and nationally, with broad investigative power.  The majority of board members should be elected by parishes to provide for appropriate expertise and lay representation, including survivors.

Regarding Those Priests and Bishops Who Abuse Minors – The Bishops Must:

    • State definitively that there is no room in the priesthood for someone who sexually abuses another human being.  To be a priest is a sacred trust.  It demands the highest level of ethical and moral behavior and trustworthiness.  The bishops’ draft charter is inadequate with regard to priests who have abused in the past.
    • Any priest—in the past, present or future—credibly proven guilty in either a church or civil forum of sexual abuse should be dismissed from the priesthood.

Regarding Abuse of Power by Church Authorities – The Bishops Must:

    • Establish penalties for bishops, church officials, priests and church employees who are responsible for covering up crimes, reassigning sex abusers, engaging in misconduct or other negligent activities that have placed people at risk. These penalties should include public censure, removal from office, a request to resign as bishop, and in the most serious cases, dismissal from the priesthood.
    • With regard to those bishops and cardinals who have abused their power in the current crisis, their resignations are critical to the credibility of any future policy.
    • Reserve to the laity the oversight of the use of church funds to settle sexual abuse cases.  Parish and social service funds must be protected.  A humble church would strip itself of luxuries and excess.

Regarding Canon Law – The Bishops Must:

    • Act swiftly and decisively to punish abusers and negligent authorities using canon law in addition to civil and criminal law. (Canons 1395 and 1389)
    • Accept responsibility for their negligence and make restitution to victims, their families, and communities as required by canon law. (Canon 1389)
    • Call for the pope to revoke the laws that require secrecy in these matters and that give all control over investigation and punishment of clergy child abusers to a special Vatican court.
    • Respect the rights of the faithful to speak out for the good of the church, to be heard by the bishops, and to defend their rights and their children’s rights in church and society. (Canons 208-230)

Regarding Changes to Institutional Church Structures – The Bishops Must:

    • Democratize the governance structure of the church by establishing shared leadership and decision-making power with all members of the laity.
    • Ordain a diverse and inclusive priesthood to include women and married people.
    • Promote an environment in which the morality of sexuality is rooted in justice and found in loving and committed relationships.
    • Affirm the rights and goodness of homosexuals.

Regarding Actions for the Laity – Individual Catholics Must:

    • Be responsible donors.
    • Hold priests and bishops accountable to their own canon law as well as to civil and criminal laws.
    • Report all suspicions of sexual abuse to the proper authorities.
    • Work for laws that remove statute of limitations and require mandatory reporting of sexual abuse by clergy.
    • Get actively involved with parish and diocesan committees and councils.

The church must change.  In many aspects the church has been a source of hope and guidance for its people.  But now, with its moral credibility in ruins, not just by the abuse committed at the hands of its priests, but by the hierarchy’s unwillingness to admit responsibility, revolutionary change is required.  We pray that the grace and wisdom of the Holy Spirit will guide us all through this difficult, yet monumental, opportunity for transformation.


Initial Signatories

Catholics for a Free Choice
Frances Kissling, President
Tel: (202) 986-6093

Catholics for the Spirit of Vatican II
Tom Kerwin
Tel: (303) 221-762

Catholics Speak Out/Quixote Center
Rea Howarth, National Coordinator
Tel: (301) 699-0042

Celibacy is the Issue (CITI)
Louise Haggett, President and founder
Tel: (508) 788-0385

Anthony T. Padovano, past president and Catholic theologian
Tel: (973) 539-8732

Mary Louise Cervone, President
Pager: (215) 719-5379

Federation of Christian Ministries
Sr. Bridget Mary Meehan, SFCC
Tel: (703) 967-6736

Loretto Women’s Network
Maureen McCormack, SL
Tel: (303) 783-0450

Sisters Against Sexism
Ruth Fitzpatrick
Tel: (703) 938-0746

The Call to Accountability Campaign
Serra Sippel, Coordinator
Tel: (202) 986-6093

WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual)
Diann Neu
Tel: (301) 589-2509

Women-Church Convergence
Mary E. Hunt
Tel: (301) 589-2509

Women in Spirit of Colorado: Catholic Women for Reform
Kay Norton Haughey, Founding Director
Tel: (970) 586-2708

Women’s Ordination Conference
Genevieve Chavez, Executive Director
Tel: (505) 649-5479