Proposed Areas of Inquiry

We are determined to help the church in Buffalo look forward, implement meaningful reforms, and rebuild the faithful’s trust and confidence…In all that we do, we are committed to six basic principles: co-responsibility, transparency, accountability, competency, justice and trust.

Leadership, The Movement to Restore Trust

Six work groups have been formed based on the MRT proposed areas of inquiry.

Each group is intended to address one of the following issues:

1.  Transparency around the nature and scale of abuse in the Diocese and Spiritual Reparation for the Victims.

  • This must involve complete disclosure of all priests who were the subject of allegations of abuse that were found credible or were the subject of settlements.
  • This may involve opening up the “secret archives” of the diocese as was done in Pennsylvania and doing it voluntarily rather than through the New York Attorney General investigation. If victims wish to remain anonymous, their names and other identifying information may be redacted.
  • Should we consider a “truth and reconciliation commission” to complete the reconciliation and healing and to restore trust and confidence?
  • How should investigations of allegations be handled and what is/should be the role of the Diocesan Review Board on sex abuse cases?
  • What are appropriate norms to put in place regarding offenses involving adults?  Doesn’t the definition of “vulnerable adult” need to be expanded?
  • Should we voluntarily adopt strict mandatory reporting for those employed by the Diocese, beyond that which is currently required by New York law?.
  • At the same time, how do we protect innocent priests?  Should there be a different process for allegations involving children and allegations involving adults?
  • How do we ensure due process for accused priests? This will require diocesan leadership that is trusted, confidence by all in the processes put in place to ferret out the truth and resistance to forces of scandal after any allegation, whether substantiated or not.  How might this be accomplished even with an immediate report to law enforcement?

2.  Transparency about All Diocesan Operations

  • How does the Diocese compare with other dioceses in terms of financial transparency?  Are there things that we can do in Buffalo to improve financial transparency?
  • How transparent are the entities under which the Diocese operates?  Are the boards governing those operations acting as truly fiduciary bodies?
  • As all resources expended for sex abuse cases come from the laity, who have contributed cash and property to the church, shouldn’t we know what has been spent  to date on settlement of these sex abuse claims?
  • Does the compensation fund established by the Diocese need to be re-thought to be more comprehensive? Should the deadline for filing be reopened?
  • Are there best practices in place in other dioceses in the United States that should be brought to Buffalo?

3.  Accountability for Bishops

  • The 2002 Dallas Charter and Norms detail how the church should deal with misbehavior by priests but say nothing about how a Bishop who is complicit in the problem of sexual abuse can be held accountable.
  • Canon law also provides no explicit mechanism for dealing with bishops who cover up abuse.  There is no principled reason why the Church’s leaders should not be held responsible for serious misconduct or incompetence.
  • A new system under which members of the hierarchy are actually held accountable for the cover up of the sexual abuse of thousands of children, is essential to restore laity’s trust.
  • Current church policy calls for the dismissal from the clerical state for even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest.  Should there be a similar canonical penalty to deal with the serious abuses by Bishops and actually imposed in appropriate cases?
  • Even without extraordinary papal intervention, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) could adopt a policy statement urging brother Bishops to resign voluntarily if they have improperly protected abusive priests.

4.  Lay Involvement in Selecting and Monitoring Bishops

  • Should lay input about Bishops, before they are assigned to a particular Diocese, be instituted, as was done in the early church?  Should the laity have any authority or input on the tenure of Bishops?
  • The current process of recommending candidates to the Congregation of Bishops is an entirely clerical process with little or no input from the laity.  But priests being considered for elevation to the episcopacy have the laity as their constituents and members of the laity may have valuable, and sometimes vital, information about the candidates.
  • In any prudently-run organization, authorities who are considering a person for promotion should have the responsibility to access information from the laity about the candidate.
  • Likewise, members of the laity may be well positioned to identify serious problems with the conduct of a bishop once in office.  The laity can have valuable information about a Bishop’s abuse behavior (not solely sex abuse) or financial mismanagement or corruption.
  • There appears no evident doctrinal reason why laypersons should not be in a position to be part of a process to review the Bishop’s performance.  This could be formalized through the institution of a diocesan review board, composed substantially of lay members, with access to diocesan records, that could initiate procedures for further action by appropriate church authorities

5.  Greater Involvement by Women/Laity in the Church

  • More than half of practicing Catholics today are women.  The presence of women in greater positions of authority within the administration of the diocese would be highly beneficial to the church.  Undoubtedly, responsible women would have understood and advised the Bishops that no other interests could have justified exposing children to sexual abuse.
  • Women participating in the governance of a diocese certainly would have given more weight to protecting vulnerable children from predatory priests than many Bishops did.
  • In what other areas should women have greater representation in the Church?

6.  Improvements in Formation of Priests and Priestly Life.

  • It is important to assure early and continuing psychological monitoring of candidates for the priesthood and in the early years of their priesthood. The quality, sophistication and reliability of psychological evaluations now are far better than they were when most of the abusive priests were trained and ordained.  Are we taking advantage of these modern tools for screening men for suitability for ministry as well as their continued service in ministry, and offering them psychological support when necessary?
  • Does the public life of priests and those in formation reflect a commitment to simplicity, social justice and service to the less fortunate?
  • All priests, in whatever role in which they serve, should be “servant leaders” recognizing the essential responsibilities to develop followers, not based on title, position or trappings of power, but because of their authentic commitment as shepherds of and co-partners with the laity in all dimensions of their lives.

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