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According to Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Wash., when they come together in Seattle in June for their semi-annual meeting, the U.S. Catholic bishops will be looking into whether there was “some sort of the breakdown of the system” that led to the D.A.’s investigation of more than two dozen priests in the archdiocese of Philadelphia. Cupich, who chairs the bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, told the Catholic News Service that he thinks what happened in the City of Not-So-Brotherly-Love on Cardinal Rigali’s watch was an aberration, and such is devoutly to be wished.
But let’s say that the system established by the 20o2 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” is found to have broken down, what then? (And how could it not have broken down?)
The problem is that the system was not equipped with any mechanism to deal with bishops who choose to withhold the hem of their cassocks from the system. For example, the system expects all dioceses to participate in prescribed annual abuse audits, but if the bishops of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Baker, Oregon, decline to participate, they get to do so with impunity. Because, God forbid, the episcopal collectivity may never call one of its own to account.
In the U.S., that is. In Ireland, the system works a little differently. There, they’ve set up a church oversight panel called the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, which conducts its own investigations. This may not work perfectly, but as John Allen points out, it was its investigation of the diocese of Clough several years ago–and its severe criticism of Bishop John Magee–that led to a forthcoming government review (as well as Magee’s resignation last year). The National Review Board established by the 2002 Charter does not have the power to conduct investigations.
I have a suggestion for you, Bishop Cupich. In light of Philadelphia, how about proposing a move to the Irish system?