The National Review Board, which advises U.S. bishops on addressing abuse, has called for lay members to investigate all clergy sexual misconduct allegations.
The board, composed of lay specialists, announced its call for the lay-led independent investigation in a press release published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It called not only for the investigation but also for a reform of the Dallas Charter, also known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, in response to what it deemed a systemic problem within the episcopacy. (RELATED: Head Of US Bishops Conference Demands Answers To Accusations Against Pope Francis, Seeks Papal Audience)
“While the policies and procedures that have been implemented by the Church since 2002 to address the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy have resulted in a significant decrease of such abuse, the revelations of horrific incidents of abuse in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, along with the abuse perpetrated by Archbishop McCarrick point to a systemic problem within the Church that can no longer be ignored or tolerated by the episcopacy in the United States,” the statement reads.
The board stated further that, while it has warned for years that bishops should not become complacent, it realized in light of recent reports and allegations that the church’s problem with abuse “is much deeper” than complacency. The NRB highlighted the need for bishops in particular to be held accountable and for the Dallas Charter to be amended to include bishops.
The group asserted that the “evil of the crimes that have been perpetrated” is the result of a culture of silence, cultivated by bishops, that has allowed abuse to go on unchecked.
“The National Review Board firmly believes, as has been expressed by several bishops in recent days, that the episcopacy needs to be held accountable for these past actions, and in the future, for being complicit, either directly or indirectly, in the sexual abuse of the vulnerable. Holding bishops accountable will require an independent review into the actions of the bishop when an allegation comes to light,” the statement adds.
The only way to truly hold the episcopacy accountable, given the fact that corruption has reached the highest levels of the church’s hierarchy, would be to entrust the independent review “to the laity,” according to the NRB. The group suggested itself as the best organization to oversee the review, given that it is comprised entirely of lay people.
The NRB also called for the immediate establishment of an “anonymous whistleblower policy” that would be “independent of the hierarchy with participation by the laity” and would report allegations of abuse to local law enforcement, church leaders, and Vatican officials.
“Trust was betrayed for the victims/survivors of the abuse; the entire Body of Christ was betrayed in turn by these crimes and the failure to act,” the NRB said.