Last week, I spent time in Baltimore with my brother bishops for the General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This is one of two meetings held annually to discuss various items within the church in the United States.
There was great anticipation for this year’s meeting given the sexual abuse crisis in the church. In fact, much of the agenda was focused on steps we can take to improve upon our response to this issue. This included a series of anticipated votes on proposals from the executive committee of the USCCB, which arose out of the situation with former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, as well as the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. These proposals focused on ensuring that bishops are held accountable if they have abused someone or if they have failed to adequately address allegations of abuse.
However, on the first day of our meetings, we were surprised when Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, announced that he had received word from the Vatican requesting that we not vote on these proposals at this time. Pope Francis has made plans for a February meeting of the leaders of the bishops’ conferences around the world to discuss this crisis, and the Vatican felt that we should not make any binding decisions until after that meeting took place.
This announcement led to some confusion, as we wondered why Pope Francis would do this, something you may be wondering as well. While I can’t speak for the pope, I can share my experience at the meetings after this happened. At first, I was disappointed, but over the following days, I came to see the wisdom in this decision. It became clear through our discussions that we are not yet ready to go forward with a process of accountability for bishops because there are still too many questions.
At the same time, our meetings were fruitful. We heard from victims-survivors, as well as presentations from the National Review Board and a victim assistance coordinator. This listening led to a series of frank and impassioned discussions among the bishops that showed our deep commitment to fixing this problem.
These discussions provided direction for Cardinal DiNardo as he prepares for the meeting with Pope Francis in February. He announced that a task force will be established to address the following topics: a process of investigating complaints against bishops that is independent, duly authorized and has substantial lay involvement; finalizing Standards of Accountability for Bishops; finalizing the Protocol for Removed Bishops; studying national guidelines for publicizing lists of names of those who have abused; and supporting the investigations into the situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick.
Now I know some of you may read this and roll your eyes, thinking, “Great, another task force. More talk and no action!” I feel your frustration, I truly do. However, I want you to know that these delays do not change our commitment to protecting all people of the Diocese of Green Bay. As I have shared in recent weeks, we continue to make progress on our actions steps to accountability.
I also believe that sometimes, by focusing so much on policies, we lose sight of the real focus of this issue, which is how to bring healing to people who have been harmed by sexual abuse. As I shared with my brother bishops, working towards this healing is of greater importance than developing policies or programs. Healing for victims remains my priority for our diocese.
Lastly, we are not going to resolve this issue of sexual abuse through policies and procedures. We are going to do this by committing ourselves to living more fully in relationship with Jesus. Policies and procedures are essential, but to be most effective they take time to develop and implement. In the meantime, none of us needs to wait to grow more deeply in love with Jesus Christ. It is only by growing in this relationship and conforming our lives to Christ that we will bring healing and light and peace to this world!
I cannot thank you enough for walking with me these past few months. We are well on our way to implementing our action plan for the diocese and so many of you have asked very important questions, offered excellent ideas and supported our efforts by praying and even fasting. I thank you for the love you have shown the church. May that love and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit guide us in becoming the living Body of Christ to the people of northeast Wisconsin.
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.