BALTIMORE – At a national assembly focused on the sex-abuse crisis, numerous U.S. Roman Catholic bishops called Wednesday for a formal repudiation of Theodore McCarrick, the ex-cardinal facing allegations of sexual misconduct over a long stretch of his career.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, nearing the close of its three-day meeting, has been striving to show a commitment to combating clergy sex-abuse even though the Vatican ordered it to delay votes on two key anti-abuse proposals.
While the abuse scandal has affected many dioceses nationwide, the bishops appeared to be most angered and embarrassed by McCarrick, who allegedly abused and harassed youths and seminarians over many years as he rose to be archbishop of Washington and a member of the College of Cardinals until his removal by Pope Francis in July.
Several investigations, including one at the Vatican, are underway to determine who might have known about and covered up McCarrick’s alleged misconduct. The U.S. bishops expressed eagerness to learn details of the Vatican probe but defeated a motion pressing for access to information uncovered in that process.
“We have taken no official action to distance ourselves form the shameful behavior of one of our own,” said Bishop Liam Cary, of Baker, Oregon. “What do people make of our silence?”
Bishop Michael Olson, of Fort Worth, Texas, noted with regret that McCarrick has not been defrocked and would have been eligible to participate in this week’s assembly.
“He is not welcome,” Olson said. “We should say that for his sake, and out of respect for those he has harmed.”
Later in the day, the bishops discussed the two anti-abuse proposals that initially had been scheduled for votes. One would establish a new code of conduct of individual bishops; the other would create a nine-member special commission, including six lay experts and three members of the clergy, to review complaints against the bishops.
Leaders of the conference said the Vatican intervened to ensure that steps taken by the U.S. bishops would be in harmony with steps decided at a Vatican-convened global meeting on sex abuse in February. They also said more time was needed to vet aspects of the U.S. proposals that might conflict with church law.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, was among many bishops urging the assembly to find some informal way of endorsing the proposals despite the Vatican order of a delay.
“Frustration is a luxury I feel I can’t afford,” he said in an interview. “I wanted to offer a pathway forward for us to take up the discussion as a body, make some decisions … but also say something to our people.”
In other action, the bishops approved a pastoral letter condemning racism, the first time they have spoken as a group on that issue since 1979.
The final text was not immediately released because amendments were being added, but Catholic News Service reported on a draft version of the letter.
“Every racist act – every such comment, every joke, every disparaging look as a reaction to the color of skin, ethnicity or place of origin – is a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister, created in the image of God,” the draft said.
It also denounced racial profiling of Hispanics and African-Americans and decried “the growing fear and harassment” of people from Muslim countries.
The bishops also voted to endorse a campaign seeking sainthood for Sister Thea Bowman, a Mississippi-born descendant of slaves who became the first black member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and – in 1989 – the first black woman to address a national meeting of the bishops conference.
Among the bishops elected to USCCB posts was Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who will head the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. Cordileone, an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, suggested Tuesday that the bishops commission a new study on whether there’s a link between clergy sex abuse and the presence of gays in the priesthood. A church-commissioned study in 2004 determined there was not a link.
Not far from the assembly venue, a Minnesota attorney who handles sex abuse cases nationwide and three men who say they were abused by clergy during their boyhoods gathered to announce a lawsuit against the bishops conference, accusing it of hiding the crimes of predator priests.
Jeff Anderson, who filed the lawsuit this week in federal court in Minnesota, said the bishops were named because their dioceses kept secret files about clergy whose misconduct might expose the church to more abuse accusations.
“We are taking the opportunity to do everything we can together to protect kids, to disgorge the secrets,” Anderson said.
The federal lawsuit demanding a trial by jury has six plaintiffs; three joined Anderson in Baltimore.
Among then was Joseph McClean, of Minneapolis. The priest he says abused him decades ago was publicly named as a “credibly accused” offender in 2015 by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“I am here to protect kids today. I’m here to protect kids tomorrow. And I’m here to protect children who have grown into adults and who haven’t had an opportunity to heal from the abuse that they suffered,” McLean said.
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