While in some ways a hopeful step, a four-day meeting in Rome earlier this year called by Pope Francis to respond to the sexual abuse crisis that has impacted the lives of countless victims and undermined the moral authority of the Catholic Church was sadly bereft of concrete reform. There is still ample opportunity for the Church to recover from the decades-old scandal and regain the trust of the public, but it will require fundamental reforms in two critical areas that permitted and then covered up those abuses: bishop accountability and Church governance.
To ensure these reforms become reality, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) should name, as soon as possible, twin oversight panels: a Task Force on Recovery to address accountability and a Task Force on Reform to address governance. These task forces should include the participation of laity and clergy and each should be given the necessary funding and resources to fulfill their responsibilities.
Unquestionably, bishops guilty of abusing minors or of negligence in handling abuse cases must be held accountable and punished for their actions. This point was driven home at the Vatican meeting by Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, and a close advisor to Pope Francis, who declared that new structures were needed to report allegations of abuse, investigate them, and remove from positions in the Church any bishops found guilty.
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