Abuse whistleblowers renew request for Vatican inquiry of US bishops

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Eight months without reply, Catholic advocates for survivors of clergy sexual abuse have hit resend on their request for a Vatican investigation into the abuse policies of U.S. bishops.

The Catholic Whistleblowers mailed a second letter Sept. 1 to the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, addressed to its prefect Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada.

The brief one-page letter summarizes and refers back to another letter the advocacy group sent at the beginning of the year. That first letter raised concerns that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was not fully implementing its zero tolerance policy toward abusive priests, and as a result putting children and communities at risk while also creating scandal in the church.

Specifically, Catholic Whistleblowers argues the conference and its bishops have not reported all appropriate abuse allegations to the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and lack a mechanism to assure bishops pass such cases to the congregation at all.

"The USCCB established a Zero Tolerance policy regarding clergy sexual abuse and then has worked against its own commitment? What motivates such behavior?" wrote Fr. James Connell, a member of the Whistleblower Steering Committee, repeating a line from the first letter, in all 13 pages, to Ouellet.

The Whistleblowers asks Ouellet "to announce immediately and publicly the course of action you are taking in response to our letter of last January."

Catholic Whistleblowers -- a network of clergy, religious and laypeople, many of whom have reported sexual abuse to church leaders -- first contacted the Vatican Jan. 4 with their concerns about possible gaps in the U.S. bishops' policies on handling abuse claims, which are housed in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, or the Dallas Charter.

As for the silence to date, the Whistleblowers said in their latest letter "the lack of response is itself disconcerting."

"We fear that the Congregation for Bishops is supporting the USCCB in its failure to live up to its Zero Tolerance policy. Of course, children continue to be at risk and we fear that the scandal is being expanded," the group wrote.

Earlier this week, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors announced it had begun addressing the abuse issue at seminars for new bishops and had completed a template to assist bishops' conferences and other Catholic associations prevent and respond to abuse.

Since Pope Francis in June 2015 unveiled plans to form the commission, the Catholic Whistleblowers have sought formal investigations of several U.S. bishops, including Cardinal Raymond Burke, Newark, N.J., Archbishop John Myers and Cardinal Justin Rigali. In February 2014, it requested on behalf of Kansas City Catholics a review of former Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn.

To date, the only response to their appeals has been a brief statement from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then the U.S. nuncio, confirming he received the Finn petition and forwarded it to Rome. While a Vatican investigation into Finn followed later that year, it remains unclear what, if any, role the Whistleblower petition played. Finn resigned in April 2015.

In addition to sending the Sept. 1 letter directly to the Congregation for Bishops, the group mailed copies to the new Vatican apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, USCCB president Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, and the 25 bishops who sit on either the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People or the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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