Paul Smeaton reports for LifeSiteNews –– A new system paid for by the 197 dioceses and eparchies of the United States was launched yesterday to report “sexual abuse or misconduct” committed by U.S. Catholic bishops. The service was launched in the midst of the country reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting service (CBAR) allows complainants to file confidential reports with an independent, third-party service, either via telephone or an online form. Reports will then be forwarded, unedited, to the appropriate Church authority, which is usually a Metropolitan archbishop, or a Senior Suffragan bishop if the report is about the Metropolitan.
While the service is paid for by dioceses across the U.S., it is provided by a third-party commercial vendor.
“This third-party reporting system is provided by Convercent, Inc., which is a commercial vendor of ethics reporting services and has no authority within the Catholic Church,” the website for the new service states.
“The service reflects Convercent’s standard design for confidentially receiving and relaying reports, additionally tailored to fit the requirements of Church law. The service is paid for by the 197 dioceses and eparchies of the United States. The service is operated by the Metropolitan archbishops and Senior Suffragan bishops of each province, with the assistance of the designated lay people corresponding to each,” the website adds.
The website for the new service is ReportBishopAbuse.org and calls can be made to 1-800-276-1562.
A statement by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia says that the system was launched in response to Vos Estis Lux Mundi, a 2019 motu proprio issued by Pope Francis, establishing new rules for clerical sexual abuse investigations.
The motu proprio provides procedures for pursuing investigations when the accused is a bishop, cardinal, or religious superior. In the past, victims and accusers have complained that investigations against the hierarchy have languished, as was the case with the now-disgraced former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
The new rules require all dioceses and eparchies around the world to create “one or more public, stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports” by May 31 this year.
The service’s website stresses that the service is not intended as a substitute for calling the police and urges those who feel that they are a victim of a crime to contact local law enforcement immediately. The site also notes that those who receive reports of “sexual abuse of a minor and certain other crimes will report them to civil authorities as required by law.”
The Frequently Asked Questions section of the website notes the sorts of complaints of sexual abuse against a bishop the service has been established to receive. A U.S. Catholic bishop who has:
- forced someone to perform or to submit to sexual acts through violence, threat, or abuse of authority;
- performed sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person;
- produced, exhibited, possessed, or distributed child pornography, or recruited or induced a minor or a vulnerable person to participate in pornographic exhibitions;
- or, a U.S. diocesan or eparchial bishop, or other cleric overseeing a diocese/eparchy in the absence of a diocesan or eparchial bishop, who, in the exercise of their office, intentionally interfered with a civil or Church investigation into allegations of sexual abuse committed by another cleric or religious
In addition to being sent to the relevant bishop, reports will also be forwarded to a lay person assigned to assist in receiving the reports.
In the wake of the McCarrick abuse scandal last year, US bishops Joseph Strickland and Shawn McKnight called on their fellow bishops to involve the laity in the investigation of abuse by bishops.
“Lay involvement should be mandatory to make darn sure that we bishops do not harm the Church in the way bishops have harmed the Church, especially what we have become aware of this past year,” McKnight said at the bishops’ General Assembly in June last year.
Under the new system, the bishop who receives a report will be required to send the report and an initial assessment to the Apostolic Nuncio. The Nuncio will then refer cases to the Holy See, who will decide within thirty days if a formal investigation is required. If so, a bishop will be tasked with overseeing the investigation.
According to the website, if the Holy See does launch an investigation “it will be undertaken by qualified experts, including lay persons.” The site claims that “[n]ormally, the investigation is to be completed within 90 days of receiving the order from the Holy See.”
In September 2019, the Vatican began the first investigation under the new rules established by Vos Estis Lux Mundi into Crookston Bishop Michael Hoeppner for charges that he impeded a police or canonical investigation of clerical sexual misconduct in the Crookston diocese. No judgment has yet been passed. In February this year, the Vatican announced that it was launching a further investigation into Hoeppner.