Bishop Robert Finn of Missouri stands convicted of covering up for a priest caught with thousands of images involving “child sex” on his computer. That this is a travesty is an understatement. That Bishop Finn has not resigned or been removed or even censured by his brother bishops is abhorrent. As U.S. bishops gather for their Fall General Assembly, Nov. 12-15, in Baltimore, Bishop Finn’s situation appears not to have made the agenda.
Bishop Finn’s conviction is the most significant example of how Roman Catholic bishops have exempted themselves from the requirement to follow their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Over the decade since this Dallas Charter was adopted, bishops have failed to report allegations of clergy sexual abuse, have kept accusations from their own review boards, and in at least one instance, have simply decided that the Charter does not apply to them at all. The U.S. bishops’ own National Review Board, which conducts audits to ensure bishops are carrying out the Charter guidelines, even warned them against “complacency or Charter drift” in its June 13, 2012, 10-year report.
Although Voice of the Faithful® is disappointed at the relative inaction on this issue by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at previous national meetings, we call for them to act immediately at their present Fall General Assembly by doing the following, which would put teeth into fraternal correction and make the USCCB position on child protection absolutely clear:
- When USCCB learns a bishop has engaged in activity that would be prohibited by the Charter, or
- When USCCB learns a bishop has disregarded the principles of the Charter and has failed to take the actions required by the Charter, or
- When USCCB learns a bishop has made public statements indicating his disagreement with the Charter’s principles or his unwillingness to take the action the Charter requires,
- Then, after notifying the bishop and after the bishop fails to take corrective action within 60 days,
- The bishop shall be excluded from USCCB activities and the USCCB’s action shall be reported to the Papal Nuncio and be the subject of a USCCB press release.
Voice of the Faithful® believes the threat of exclusion and public disapprobation will encourage USCCB members to implement the Charter more vigilantly, and resolving the above is a viable way to ensure this.
Our request for this action follows up on formal recommendations to tighten NRB audits that Voice of the Faithful® representatives made in April 2011 shortly after meeting with the then heads of the bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection and NRB, Teresa Kettelkamp and Diane Knight, respectively. We are convinced the actions we propose would enhance protection of children and help restore bishops’ badly damaged credibility. Those recommendations included:
- Fully independent audits, with no restrictions on access to individuals or records;
- Independent diocesan review boards;
- Insulation of victim assistance programs from chancery officials, diocesan law firms or insurance companies;
- Listening sessions around the country to hear lay Catholics’ reactions to the abuse/cover-up revelations and their expectations for resolving them; and
- Formal support for Statutes of Limitations reform to provide victims/survivors with redress through civil authority.
Voice of the Faithful® has written NRB Chairman Al J. Notzon, III, regarding the above, and will be anxiously awaiting the outcomes from the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly.