Beliefnet
Cardinal Bernard F. Law's resignation as Archbishop of Boston and the Vatican's official approval of the U.S. bishops' policy on sexual abuse mark the end of one chapter, and the beginning of another, in the unfolding story of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Throughout the United States and the world, the wounds of the Catholic Church must heal on many levels. Relationships among bishops and the priests, survivors, and laity will take time and special efforts to repair. In particular, reconciliation between the Catholic Church hierarchy and survivors of clergy sexual abuse will require that justice be done through the fair settlement of legal cases. It will also require the hierarchy's sustained commitment to education programs, therapy for victims and their families, and dialogue.

Catholic leaders--clergy and lay--with whom I have spoken foresee a decade or more of hard work to reestablish stable relationships among priests, survivors, laity, and bishops. In Boston alone, the hundreds of lawsuits are likely to take upwards of five years to resolve, even under the most optimistic scenarios. Throughout the U.S., church attendance, regular financial support, and Catholic philanthropy are all down now--in some dioceses, by 20 percent or more.

Bringing those levels up by regaining trust will take more than well-written policies and promises--it will take action. Bishops, priests, and laity must define a new set of terms about how Catholics will participate in, and actively support, their Church.

PRACTICAL STEPS

There are several practical steps that bishops and laity should take to begin the process of healing, reconciliation, and reunification:

Create Advisory Boards That Aren't Just For Show

Existing governance structures in each diocese--including pastoral councils, finance councils, and advisory boards--need to be reinvigorated or reconstructed. Right now, a typical diocese's finance committee is run by laypeople who are likely to view their appointments as honorary.

Instead of mild, deferential laity who value these honorary appointments, lay boards must be populated with tough-minded, independent thinking Catholics who will "speak truth to power" - telling bishops what they need to know, rather than what they want to hear, particularly regarding budgets, administration, financial planning, and personnel. Each person serving on a lay board is a steward for the interests of all Catholics and must resist succumbing to the insidious effects of "insider" status and privilege.

Let the Sun Shine In

Secrecy and authoritarianism created the conditions in which sexual abuse could flourish within the Church. Currently, some dioceses have newly-created review boards meant to evaluate sexual abuse allegations. These boards are made up of laypeople whose names have not been revealed.

Such "secret" review boards are an unacceptable contradiction in terms. Bishops must not undermine their own stated commitment to openness by resorting to concealment. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." Sunlight and the open participation of the laity are the only ways to cleanse and purify the Church.

Don't Allow Wiggle Room

Rhetorical commitment is not sufficient. There must be vigorous definition and implementation of child protection policies beyond the Norms approved by the U.S. bishops and the Vatican. For instance, bishops can go beyond the final revised Norms in terms of rolling back the 10-year statue of limitations and making sure that the influence of lay review boards is not diminished. The bishops also must not slow proceedings down deliberately, under-fund policies and procedures, or appoint weak personnel for implementation.

Listen to Those Who've Been Wounded

Bishops must learn to bring people together, to listen as well as speak, and to respect the anger, hurt, and sense of betrayal felt by millions of decent Catholics.

Overrule Backsliders

Local parishes need strong lay involvement in parish councils, finance councils, and committees that oversee clerical and lay personnel, child protection policies, and pastoral activities. Bishops need to press sincerely and unequivocally for these forms of lay influence, and they must overrule pastors who resist it. In particular, safe parish programs must be adequately funded and competently staffed.

Local parishes need strong lay involvement in parish councils, finance councils, and committees that oversee clerical and lay personnel, child protection policies, and pastoral activities. Bishops need to press sincerely and unequivocally for these forms of lay influence, and they must overrule pastors who resist it. In particular, safe parish programs must be adequately funded and competently staffed.

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