Prominent Catholics see larger role for laity in church's abuse response

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — An independent lay-run board that would hold bishops accountable for
their actions, a national day for Mass or prayers of reparation, and encouragement
to parishioners to become more involved in their diocese are among steps suggested
by prominent lay Catholics to right the U.S. church as it deals with a new clergy
sexual abuse scandal.

contacted by Catholic News Service said that it was time for laypeople to boost
their profile within the church and help begin to dismantle long-standing clericalism
that has sought to preserve the reputation of offending clergy at the expense
of the safety of children.

credibility is gone and the trust of the faithful is gone,” Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the
National Review Board, said of the U.S. bishops as they worked to develop steps to promote greater accountability
on abuse.

National Review Board, established by the bishops in 2002, oversees compliance
by dioceses with the “Charter
for the Protection of Children and Young People.” It has no role in
oversight of bishops.

bishops have to put their trust in lay leadership and allow that lay leadership
to develop the processes and oversight when these kinds of allegations occur,
particularly holding bishops accountable,” Cesareo said.

In a
presentation at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spring general assembly in June in Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, Cesareo cautioned the prelates against complacency in meeting
the charter’s requirements. He said that auditors preparing the
2016-2017 annual report on the charter’s implementation nationwide discovered signs
of complacency in some dioceses and eparchies.

been addressing the body of bishops four, five times. I’ve driven the point
that they can’t be complacent, and here we are again with another crisis,”
Cesareo said.

went through the crisis in 2002 and had good policies and procedures in place,
and allegations and current abuse have gone down,” he said. “But when
we see the bishops don’t get it, that there’s still the notion of
self-preservation at the expense of the victim … it just begs for lay
leadership to come forward and to address this and help lead to healing.

really think that it’s a cultural change that has to take place. We can have
all the committees, all the structures and all the policies, but there has got
to be a cultural shift in the mindset of the bishops that they too are
accountable, that they cannot be held to a different standard,” continued
Cesareo, president of
Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Cesareo was
not alone in calling for a separate body to be established to handle accusations
of abuse involving bishops. While details varied, the basic premise envisions that
such a board would review abuse allegations or complaints of improper handling
of an abuse claim by any bishop.

Just such a
body has been sought since 2002, when the abuse scandal arose in the
Archdiocese of Boston, by the church reform group Voice of the Faithful, said Donna
Doucette, executive director.

accountability from the bishops is absolutely the key. It is not possible for
the bishops to police themselves. We as an organization believe that there must
be an independent lay-led and dominated board,” Doucette told CNS.

heartening that finally after all these years, and we hope it’s more than just
verbiage, that the very things that the bishops attacked us for saying, they’re
saying it now,” she added.

continued working on a series of measures Aug. 23, nine days after a
Pennsylvania grand jury detailed more than 1,000 claims of alleged sex abuse in six dioceses in the state
over 70 years and identified 301 priests and church workers who may have committed the crimes. The
report also singled out some bishops for their improper handling of accused

Prior to
Cesareo’s comments, Cardinal
Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, called for laypeople to take a greater role in addressing the “moral catastrophe” of the latest abuse

He said Aug. 16 that the
“substantial involvement of the laity” from law enforcement,
psychology and other disciplines will be essential to the process of developing
a comprehensive plan that was expected to be presented at the bishops’ fall
general assembly in November in Baltimore.

F. DeKarlos Blackmon, secretariat director of life, charity
and justice in the Diocese of Austin, Texas, urged laypeople to
“step up and speak up” to address the catastrophe described by
Cardinal DiNardo.

He called on the bishops to heed the
advice of laity in areas in which the bishops may not have expertise,
particularly when investigating abuse claims.

“We as laity need to be able to
walk with the leadership. Pope Benedict stated the church can never be without
the dedicated laity. I think it’s really important that we keep that in mind.
We have a place at the table,” said Blackmon, an adviser to the bishops’ Subcommittee on African American

Teresa Tomeo, host of a
syndicated radio talk show, said it is the laity’s job to convince the bishops
that more oversight of their actions is good for the church.

suggested that the new scandal will “wake up a sleeping giant” as laypeople “respectfully and lovingly” address the bishops about the issue of clergy sexual
abuse and help set a new course for the church.

need to come together as a group and … work with the hierarchy to come up
with the steps that need to be made,” Tomeo said. “We need to stay,
pray and get organized and be willing to make a difference for the sake of the

By working together,
laypeople can “help church officials catch up with the laity” in addressing
sexual abuse, said Elizabeth
Scalia, who blogs at The Anchoress.

“If we
want to remain a eucharistic church, we’re going to have to help shape the
leaders. We have to help them bring about a churchwide metanoia,” she

urged Catholics “to become really, really noisy” and begin writing
“firm but respectful” letters to their bishop about their concerns.
She said a presence or vigil outside of bishops’ residences also may be

no reason not to go get a little protest group outside the bishop’s residence
and say, ‘Bishop, we’re going to stay here and pray our rosary until you come
out and talk with us,'” Scalia told CNS.

As a
cornerstone of Catholic life, prayer can begin to set the proper tone for
action and repentance, Tomeo and Scalia said. Both called in addition for a
nationwide day of Masses or holy hours for reparation.

priest or bishop can lay prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament to ask for
forgiveness,” Scalia proposed, hoping for more than a one-time
“theatrical performance.”

The blogger
advocated for additional steps as well in calling on bishops to “put some
actions behind their words” by, for example, selling their residence and
using the proceeds for the benefit of abuse survivors.

can give me all those words, but until you put actions behind that, I can’t
judge the reality of that. It needs to be an impressive action,” she

John Carr, director of the
Initiative on Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University,
recommended “a structure of accountability and responsibility and ways of
collaboration” among the bishops and laity that advances the church’s

is a time for mission, not just apology and reform,” he told CNS.
“The only way forward is mission and laypeople have an essential role in
carrying that mission forward.”

And while
laypeople have an important role to play in response to the abuse crisis, Carr
didn’t exempt them from contributing to the church’s troubles. He pointed particularly
to attorneys, who advised bishops to refrain from commenting on abuse claims
and decline meeting with victims, and therapists who “thought they could
fix this (penchant for abusing young people) and gave terrible advice” to
the bishops.

addition, the church needs priests who set aside clericalism, he said.

absolutely need priesthood, but we don’t need clericalism. In that there are
lots of great wonderful priests. Pope Francis has pointed out that clericalism
is a disease that leaves people isolated and arrogant and loses why they became
a priest,” Carr told CNS.

priesthood isn’t a club. It’s not a fraternity with its own silence and rules.
It’s a vocation of service. In some places that got lost.”

Any steps
that eventually will be undertaken will require broad collaboration among the
laity and clergy and for each party to hold the other accountable, said Hosffman Ospino, associate professor
of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College.

can the laity do? Get involved,” Ospino said. “This (challenge) should
galvanize our energy because we need to reclaim our church.

we care for the community and care for these children, the vulnerable and
families, we need to get involved. We need to be vocal about it. We need to
find ways to help in our own church,” he said.

At the same
time, Ospino cautioned about the potential rise in laicism, that only laypeople have the best answers to what is confronting the church. Such thinking
is no better than clericalism, he said.

are all in the same boat and we need to hold each other accountable.”

Since the
Second Vatican Council, the church has worked to include laypeople in key roles
within the church including some levels of governance and Ospino called for
“potential adjustments to canon law” to broaden the role of laity.

think that countless people are ready for this. The ball is on the clergy’s

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

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