By Dennis Sadowski | Catholic News Service
BALTIMORE (CNS) — A proposed commission that would air complaints against bishops in cases of sex abuse or harassment bears similarities to the model of diocesan review boards that hear such allegations against priests.
Details of the full function of the commission continue to be discussed by leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, but the concept was introduced Nov. 13 during the bishops’ fall general assembly in Baltimore.
The commission would hear reports about bishops who reportedly have failed to comply with the proposed standards of episcopal accountability, which also received a first public airing the same day.
No action was to be taken on either proposal during the assembly. The Vatican Congregation for Bishops asked the USCCB to delay any formal action approving the hand-in-hand protocols pending further review of their compliance with canon law and the pending meeting of presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world in Rome in February.
Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, outlined the function of what is being called the “Special Commission for Review of Complaints Against Bishops for Violations of the Standards of Episcopal Conduct.”
The commission is designed to avoid infringing on the local jurisdiction of bishops and the Holy See, while aiding both to ensure “shared responsibility to protect the vulnerable,” Archbishop Vigneron told the assembly.
In his presentation on accountability standards earlier in the day, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, noted that “in our dioceses there already exist codes of conduct,” so “in light of that, the focus became on how to build additional policy and best practices to hold ourselves accountable.”
As proposed, the commission would be established as a separate nonprofit corporation with members drawn from U.S. dioceses, which would voluntarily decide to join.
USCCB leaders expect it would receive complaints of conduct violations. When an allegation of abuse of a minor against a bishop is received, it would report the allegation to civil authorities, notify the papal nuncio to the U.S. and begin an investigation of any complaint. The result of the investigation would be sent in comprehensive report to the nuncio for consideration and possible action.
The commission would have nine members including six laypeople and three clergy. The chair and vice chair would be chosen from among the lay members; the other lay members would include representatives of law enforcement, civil law, canon law, the field of psychology or social work and there would be at least one victim-survivor among the commission members.
There also would be at least one woman religious on the commission.
The clergy members would include one priest and the chairmen of the bishops’ committees on Consecrated Life and Vocations and on the Protection of Children and Young People. Children and Young People.
As a nonprofit corporation, members would name a board of directors including laity and clergy. The board in turn would choose commission members from a slate provided by the National Review Board, the all-lay body that oversees diocesan compliance with the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
Archbishop Vigneron said the commission would be financed by a sliding scale of contributions from dioceses that agree to join it. He said USCCB officials estimated it would cost about $500,000 a year to operate.
Bishops raised numerous questions about the commission’s operation and its relationship to each diocese during a 35-minute discussion follow the archbishop’s presentation. Most supported the concept, but some also expressed concern that it may be duplicating existing mechanisms to receive complaints against bishops that exist in each metropolitan region of dioceses around the country.
A full-scale discussion was to take place Nov. 14.