As we begin Advent we hopefully take the time to look at the past and consider things we need to change in our lives to be more open to receive Christ fully. This past year our Church has been challenged with the revelation of abuses over the past decades of children by priests in a Grand Jury report on 6 dioceses in Pennsylvania, and also of abuses by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The abuses themselves are horrendous enough, but the fact that more wasn’t done to prevent future abuses and to hold those associated with these sins accountable only raised more concerns regarding trust in the Church. Changes are clearly needed.
Every November the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meets and this year this topic was the primary concern that they needed to address and had been preparing for leading up to the meeting in emergency committee meetings that could be held more immediately. The bishops of Missouri wrote a joint letter to the Conference in October stating the concerns in this clergy abuse scandal that they felt needed to be addressed at their meeting. But also in the time leading up to the meeting Pope Francis called for a meeting of the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences from around the world for next February to address the abuse crisis and the protection of children. While this action was encouraging, the timing of it led the Vatican to request that the USCCB postpone any votes on related actions addressing clergy sexual abuse.
The President of the USCCB, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, wrote at the end of the conference, “I opened the meeting expressing some disappointment [referring to the request to postpone any votes]. I end it with hope.” While they were not able to do all they might have in achieving their goals of discovering all of the history and timeline regarding Archbishop McCarrick’s situation; to establish means to report abuse regarding bishops; and to develop means to hold bishops accountable by independent means that substantially involve the laity, they were able to progress. Action steps were established addressing these goals: supporting all investigations regarding Archbishop McCarrick in line with the investigations Pope Francis committed to in a statement on Oct. 6th; completing a proposal for reporting and investigating complaints against bishops involving a national lay commission and including current diocesan review boards; and forming standards for the holding accountable and possible removal of bishops.
I did not want to start the Advent season focused on this topic, but I considered it necessary to share an update regarding this topic and to share in the words of Cardinal DiNardo some of our related disappointments, but also our hopes. At the end of Caridnal DiNardo’s closing statement of the USCCB meeting he made a comment that is appropriate for the Conference, but also for each of us as we begin Advent, “We must recommit to holiness and to the mission of the Church.” May you have a fruitful Advent and look forward to more fully receiving Christ at Christmas.