Concerns about Cardinal McCarrick, Pennsylvania clergy at forefront of Church’s attention
Staff and wire reports
In the wake of Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick’s recent resignation from the College of Cardinals following sexual abuse allegations, Bishop Richard F. Stika has issued a statement on the matter in which he offers his personal apology for incidents of abuse by Catholic clergy.
Bishop Stika is calling for further review and action to strengthen existing Church protocol in dealing with such abuse allegations and said he would like to see allegations against clergy handled by a review board led by laity.
“I’m against a review panel being made up of all bishops or all Church people. I think the laity should be involved because they have a lot of expertise that we don’t have,” the bishop said. “I would like to see a national review board, maybe with some bishops who have canon law expertise, but also with lay people who can offer so much expertise.”
He suggested that model could extend to diocesan review boards.
Bishop Stika joins priests and bishops across the country who are expressing their frustration with ongoing credible accusations of sexual abuse by Church leaders.
As Pope Francis orders former Cardinal McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, D.C., to maintain “a life of prayer and penance” until a canonical trial examines accusations that he sexually abused individuals, many priests and bishops are speaking out – and they are being encouraged to.
“You know, in this day and age when again you see tragedy in the Church with abuse and allegations, you might wonder why anyone would want to become a priest, or a bishop, or even a cardinal,” Bishop Stika said to members of St. Mary Church in Johnson City Aug. 3 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of priestly ordination of St. Mary’s pastor, Father Peter Iorio.
“Because priests like Father Peter are guys I am so privileged to serve with as a priest, and a bishop, and a deacon — people who are faithful, not perfect, but are trying to make a difference in all of our lives,” Bishop Stika added.
And as the Catholic Church confronts accusations against Archbishop McCarrick, it also is bracing for the public release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on a months-long investigation into abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses over a 70-year span.
As news surrounding Archbishop McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report has spread in recent days, clergy members celebrating Mass recently, feeling a need to acknowledge the news and respond to the faithful, took the opportunity to read from Jeremiah, Chapter 23, which says, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the flock of my pasture — oracle of the Lord. Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. …”
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, who also is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a strong statement, saying Archbishop McCarrick “will rightly face” a Vatican canonical process regarding sexual abuse allegations against him, but the U.S. Catholic Church must take steps to respond to church leaders’ “moral failures of judgment.”
The accusations against Archbishop McCarrick “reveal a grievous moral failure within the church,” Cardinal DiNardo said.
“They cause bishops anger, sadness, and shame; I know they do in me,” he said in an Aug. 1 statement. “They compel bishops to ask, as I do, what more could have been done to protect the people of God. Both the abuses themselves, and the fact that they have remained undisclosed for decades, have caused great harm to people’s lives and represent grave moral failures of judgment on the part of church leaders.”
To determine a course of action for the USCCB to take, Cardinal DiNardo said he has convened the bishops’ executive committee.
“This meeting was the first of many among bishops that will extend into our Administrative Committee meeting in September and our general assembly in November,” he explained. “All of these discussions will be oriented toward discerning the right course of action for the USCCB.”
Such work will “take some time,” but he laid out four points to be acted upon immediately:
- He encouraged each bishop in his diocese “to respond with compassion and justice to anyone who has been sexually abused or harassed by anyone in the church. We should do whatever we can to accompany them.”
- He urged anyone who has experienced sexual assault or harassment by anyone in the Church to come forward. “Where the incident may rise to the level of a crime, please also contact local law enforcement.”
- The USCCB “will pursue the many questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick’s conduct to the full extent of its authority; and where that authority finds its limits, the conference will advocate with those who do have the authority. One way or the other, we are determined to find the truth in this matter.”
- “Finally, we bishops recognize that a spiritual conversion is needed as we seek to restore the right relationship among us and with the Lord. Our church is suffering from a crisis of sexual morality. The way forward must involve learning from past sins.”
Cardinal DiNardo said the failures of judgment by Church leaders in the case of Archbishop McCarrick “raise serious questions.”
“Why weren’t these allegations of sins against chastity and human dignity disclosed when they were first brought to church officials?” he asked. “Why wasn’t this egregious situation addressed decades sooner and with justice? What must our seminaries do to protect the freedom to discern a priestly vocation without being subject to misuse of power?”
In conclusion, he asked all to “pray for God’s wisdom and strength for renewal as we follow St. Paul’s instruction: ‘Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.’”
While still very disappointing, tragic, and heartbreaking for the victims, the situation involving Archbishop McCarrick shows that the Church’s new system of review can work, Bishop Stika said. He pointed out that allegations were brought to an Archdiocese of New York review board, which investigated the charges and found them credible. Cardinal Timothy Dolan then forwarded the allegations to Pope Francis.
“You know the one thing — we’re not abandoned by Jesus. It has been a rough time for the Church, and it shows that sin is in places where you least expect it to be. This has to be dealt with. Transparency is very important,” he noted.