Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, attends Pope Francis' address to a joint meeting of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington Sept. 24, 2015. At right is John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. The man at left is unidentified. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Church leaders urge inquiry led by lay persons into abuse claims against archbishop

WASHINGTON — U.S. Catholic Church leaders have been calling for an internal investigation into the handling of allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick and urging such an inquiry be spearheaded by laypeople.

“I think we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer. To have credibility, a panel would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised,” said Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, New York.

In an Aug. 6 statement, the bishop said he was “heartened by my brother bishops proposing ways for our Church to take action in light of recent revelations” and he agreed “a national panel should be commissioned, duly approved by the Holy See.”

But the bishop said laypeople had a crucial role to play in this work, noting that they are “not only willing to take on this much-needed role, but they are eager to help us make lasting reforms that will restore a level of trust that has been shattered yet again.”

“In speaking with them, ” he said, “we all hear their passion for our universal Church, their devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and their hunger for the truth. They are essential to the solution we seek.”

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, N.Y., is pictured in a 2015 photo in Washington. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Bishop Scharfenberger said what is currently needed is “an independent commission led by well-respected, faithful lay leaders who are beyond reproach, people whose role on such a panel will not serve to benefit them financially, politically or personally. These will be people with a deep understanding of the Catholic faith, but without an axe to grind or an agenda to push. It will not be easy, but it will be worth every ounce of effort, energy and candor we can muster.”

He stressed that U.S. bishops must “get this right” and he said he is confident they can “find a way to look outside ourselves, to put this in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and to entrust our very capable laypeople, who have stood with us through very difficult times, to help us do the right thing.”

“We need an investigation — the scope of which is not yet defined but must be defined — and it must be timely, transparent and credible.”

Similarly, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, former head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on child and youth protection, said in an interview with America magazine that he supports an investigation into the handling of allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct against Archbishop McCarrick that includes laypeople.

The cardinal told the Jesuit magazine he was shocked to learn about Archbishop McCarrick’s double life and would support “a full inquiry” into why those settlements against him were not disclosed.

“We have to find out exactly what took place, especially with regard to the adult misbehaviour that was alleged,” he said, adding that if dioceses lack policies on how to deal with allegations of misbehaviour involving adults, then “we need to correct that.”

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl told the National Catholic Reporter Aug. 5 that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops should create a new panel to receive and evaluate any allegations or rumours of sexual misconduct by a member bishop, adding that the Vatican could designate one of its offices to act on the proposed panel’s findings.

The cardinal said he had not personally been aware of rumours about Archbishop McCarrick’s alleged abuse of young men while he was a priest and bishop, but the cardinal said there should be a mechanism where rumours about bishops could be reviewed.

“It seems to me that’s one possibility, that there would be some way for the bishops, and that would mean working through our conference … to be able to address the question of sustained rumours,” he told the independent, lay-owned biweekly newspaper. He said the proposed panel of bishops might turn any findings it makes on an accused bishop to the apostolic nuncio, who could pass these findings on to a Vatican office.

“We don’t pass judgment,” Cardinal Wuerl told NCR. “That has to go to Rome. So, it seems to me there has to be some mechanism in the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith or in the Congregation for Bishops to evaluate any concern that a conference of bishops might have about one of its members.”

He said his idea of a new panel was in response to the Aug. 1 statement by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, that said the bishops’ conference would discuss at its annual fall meeting “the right course of action” in wake of revelations of Archbishop McCarrick’s abuse.

Cardinal Wuerl said bishops need to be ready for this meeting with work already done and ideas in place.

Cardinal Cupich similarly urged bishops to be ready to discuss this issue at their November meeting. He told America magazine that Catholics should ask their bishops to explain the policies in place to protect both children and adults from harassment and abuse.

If Church leaders “need help in that nationally, then we need to do something,” he said, adding: “Let’s roll up our sleeves when we get together in November and do it.”

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 • Pope accepts McCarrick’s resignation from College of Cardinals