When the U.S. Bishops’ Conference released its annual audit of child sexual abuse allegations this week, the most notable thing about the report was how mundane it was.
The report details child abuse allegations reported to U.S. dioceses between July 2020 and June 2021. It showed that historic abuse allegations are declining, after a spike that began in 2019, and that recent abuse allegations children in the Church remain particularly low. .
The report also explained that nearly two million adults who work with children in the Church underwent background checks during this period, and that millions have undergone some kind of training to recognize dangerous environments. .
In the two decades since cleric abuse scandals prompted USCCB policies aimed at ensuring safe environments for children, Catholic dioceses have come a long way on this front. The Church in the United States is not perfect at protecting children – far from there – but in many ways, the USCCB is way ahead of other religious denominations and other public institutions on policy to protect children.
In this light, the USCCB audit report is a snapshot of a 20-year process that has, albeit imperfectly, significantly changed the Church’s culture and practices regarding safe environments for children.
Third-party audits and an insistence on digital transparency, experts say, are part of what made the difference. Year after year, external reports have documented the status of incoming cases, the functionality of review boards, bishops who declined to participate in third-party reviews, and the disposition of allegations, new and old.
On many elements of the issues surrounding child-safe environments, figures have been reported every 12 months, in black-and-white, to give an ongoing sense of the scope and scale of the problem – and listeners insisted on new areas where attention should be paid, new issues that are not sufficiently addressed, documented or transparently reported.
Experts have often said The pillar that whatever reforms have been accomplished, it is in large part due to the measure of transparency that annual reports have brought to cultural transformation. More transparency, of course, would probably have more positive effects, but the cultural shift on child-related issues in the Church cannot be ignored.
But compare this approach to the implementation by the Holy See of Your estis lux mundithe 2019 Vatican protocols for investigating bishops accused of misconduct, abuse or negligence in the performance of their duties.
What the Church Officially Knows Your estis‘implementation is very weak. A US bishop was allowed to resign after an investigation into his conduct, two others were exonerated, without any public information, of the allegations made against them.
Other bishops are said to have been investigated – in California, New York, Tennessee. But the Holy See would not confirm the details of these investigations, or even acknowledge that they are actually taking place.
Even in a diocese where priests wrote to the apostolic nuncio to ask for “merciful relief” from their bishop’s leadership, the Holy See has not officially acknowledged that any inquiries have taken place, nor given the diocesan presbyterium, even, any idea whether their complaints have been heard.
While the Holy See is supposed to be revising Your beings, there was no consultation on what changes should be desired.
Anyway good Your estis reportedly will not be shared in annual reports detailing the number of reports received by the third-party whistleblower line, the number of those that were forwarded to metropolitans, or the number of those that are the subject of a investigation. There will be no indication of the number of people contacted for interviews during the investigations, or the number of investigations currently underway in the Holy See.
If the secrecy of the Holy See does not mean that Your estis can’t accomplish anything, it’s worth considering whether it can lead to meaningful cultural change—combatting cultural issues that allow episcopal misconduct or neglect to go unaddressed—without transparency.
And it is worth asking whether a policy aimed at accountability, but conducted in secrecy, will do anything to inspire confidence in Catholics.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory said last month that the US bishops do not appear to have earned the trust of most Catholics that they have handled serious sexual misconduct, abuse and coercion in the life of the Church well.
Gregory acknowledged that some bishops have gained trust by being “frank, honest and open with their people.”
“But when you look at the corporate identity of the episcopate, we still have a long way to go because, again, the actions of one influence the credibility of the other,” the cardinal told Catholic News. Service.
“With each revelation implying that a bishop was not taking appropriate action, with each revelation that a bishop himself was engaged in this terrible criminal behavior, the progress made over months and years has been eroded,” he said. added Gregory.
“With each sordid revelation (of sexual abuse or an inappropriate response from a bishop), the task becomes more difficult, the climb becomes steeper.”
It is worth asking whether it is not just the allegations that lead to a sense of distrust, but the black box conditions under which these allegations appear to be investigated by the Holy See.
It is one thing to accept that bishops are sinners, but for many Catholics it is quite another to fear that an opaque investigative process will cloud the systemic protection of episcopal scoundrels.
Given how much is still unknown even about Theodore McCarrick’s wrongdoings – consider that none of his alleged financial wrongdoings have been disclosed – it’s hard to ask Catholics to believe that in a secret process of the Holy See, the justice is done.
Last month, researcher Stephen White wrote to The pillar that when it comes to Your beings, “the law must work and also be seen to work.”
“The success of the law will be … measured by whether or not it restores some credibility to the Church’s promise to hold bishops accountable,” he added.
Few would say the USCCB’s child protection laws are perfect – and most would agree that they probably are. need for reform. And few would say that the American bishops or the conference itself cornered the leadership transparency market.
But when it comes to the “Charter for the protection of children and young people”, few would deny that what works can be said to work – in black on white, with tables and graphs, published once per year.
It is unlikely that the Holy See will implement such a practice. At the same time, most church observers have come to view transparent reporting on reform procedures as a basic element of responsible church leadership.
If there is a “credibility gap”, the disparity between expectations and practice is probably at its center.