To Be Credible Bishops Must Give Lay Review Boards Real Authority (Statement: November 2002)

To be Credible, Bishops Must Give Lay Review Boards Real Authority

Group will ask its members to monitor implementation of Bishops' charter and norms for clergy sexual abuse

In response to the U.S. Catholic Bishops' newly issued charter and norms addressing clergy sexual abuse FutureChurch cofounder Fr. Lou Trivison noted: "I think that overall the Bishops made a good faith effort to correct past mistakes." Trivison praised the public discussion and vote on national television as a "first" since such sensitive issues are usually dealt with behind closed doors. "I am especially pleased that the Bishops listened to the survivors, publicly asked for forgiveness and pledged to report all allegations to civil authorities in the future."

However U.S. Catholic Bishops' policies for addressing sexual abuse of minors by priests, deacons and other church personnel "will only be as credible as the amount of real authority given to each diocesan lay review board" said Sr. Christine Schenk, director of the Cleveland based FutureChurch after returning from the Dallas meeting. "I am happy that the Bishops supported a national review board to monitor diocesan compliance" said Schenk "however we are concerned that penalties for failure to comply were not identified. Neither did the Bishops discuss sanctions for Bishops who knowingly transferred pedophile priests. These should have been included in the charter."

"In the final analysis, given canonical restrictions which require all laity to serve only in an advisory capacity, credibility and trust will be restored only by the extent to which Bishops' allow lay advisory boards to be truly policy making. It will be up to ordinary Catholics and the media to monitor whether there is any real improvement or not" said Karen Leith a FutureChurch board member who also attended the Dallas meeting. "We plan to ask our members and all faithful Catholics to become proactive in their dioceses in assuring that the lay review boards have real authority so that the new norms are implemented," said Schenk.

But according to Trivison it must not end there: "Ultimately, bishops must heed the voices of lay people and include them meaningfully on all levels of church decision making.'

"Once bishops begin to listen to lay people in earnest, they will have to confront issues that church officials have long refused to discuss," said Trivison, "For a long time lay people have been crying out for church structures that are more inclusive and more pastoral -- and they have not been heard. They have been crying out for real dialogue on issues such as priestly celibacy and the ordination of women -- and they have not been heard."

"Polling data shows that the nations Catholics are deeply troubled by the steady decline in the number of priests," said Fr. Trivison, a retired priest from the diocese of Cleveland. An already grave shortage has been exacerbated by the removal from active ministry of scores of priests being investigated for sexual misconduct.

"Catholics know that the priest shortage has already compromised the regular receipt of the Eucharist in many parts of this world, as well as in our own country," he said. "They also know that there is no shortage of vocations among women and married men who are experiencing a call to ordination."

FutureChurch advocates for the preservation of the Eucharist by opening the priesthood to all the baptized. The organization has called for its members and other concerned Catholics to wear green ribbons as a sign of hope for healing and renewal in a broken church.