System to report misconduct by bishops goes live

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle, center, and other prelates pray during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 12, 2019. The third-party reporting system to record abuse complaints against bishops, approved in November, has officially begun. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Catholic News Service and Record Staff Reports

WASHINGTON — A nation-wide system for reporting allegations of sexual misconduct against U.S. bishops and eparchs is available now.

Called the Catholic Bishops Abuse Reporting Service, or CBAR, the system became operational March 16 with a website and a toll-free telephone number through which individuals can file reports regarding a bishop.

The website is ReportBishopAbuse.org. Calls can be placed to 800-276-1562. A link to the website is also available on the Archdiocese of Louisville’s homepage, www.archlou.org, under “Restoring Trust.”

The system is being implemented by individual dioceses under the direction of each respective cardinal, archbishop or bishop.

As the service was launched, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz offered his full support of the reporting service.

“The Church must shine the light of Christ on these issues as we continue to vigorously confront the horror of the sexual abuse of children or vulnerable people by representatives of the Church,” he said in a statement. “In his document establishing the framework for this service — ‘Vos estis lux mundi’ — Pope Francis reminded us that we must be ‘the light of the world.’

“I pray that this effort, along with all of the other measures previously established by the ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,’ helps us to realize this call,” the archbishop said.

Reports of misconduct made regarding a bishop in Kentucky or Tennessee will be sent to Archbishop Kurtz, who is the metropolitan of dioceses located in those states, and a designated layperson.

Dioceses located in Kentucky and Tennessee are known as the Province of Louisville. The province includes the Archdiocese of Louisville, the dioceses of Covington, Owensboro and Lexington in Kentucky and the dioceses of Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis in Tennessee.

If a report is made about Archbishop Kurtz, Bishop Roger J. Foys of Covington will receive the report. Bishop Foys is the senior suffragan bishop of the province.

Denver-based Convercent developed the reporting system under a two-year contract with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The company specializes in ethics and compliance management for businesses and organizations.

Under the system, the company gathers information and routes reports to the appropriate church authority consistent with canon law. It does not conduct any investigation. The information gathered will be protected through enhanced encryption.

Approved by the U.S. bishops in June at their spring general assembly, the reporting mechanism meets the requirements established by Pope Francis in his “motu proprio,” “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the light of the world”) to have a way of receiving reports of sexual misconduct by a bishop.

“Motu proprio” is a Latin phrase that means “on one’s own initiative.” Popes use it to signal a special personal interest in a subject.

The system works like this:

  • Calls initially will come into a central phone bank, where trained personnel will ask for information about the allegation being made including the name of the person making the report and his or her contact information. People also will have the option of filing a report online if they do not want to call. People will not be required to give their name if they wish to remain anonymous.
  • The information gathered will be forwarded to the appropriate metropolitan, or archbishop, responsible for each diocese in a province. Allegations against a metropolitan will be forwarded to the senior suffragan bishop in the appropriate province. The U.S. has 32 metropolitans. Each province has one archdiocese and several dioceses.
  • The information also will be forwarded to a layperson designated to assist the bishop in receiving allegations.
  • After review, the metropolitan or senior suffragan will send the report to the apostolic nuncio in Washington.
  • The nuncio is required to send the report and the metropolitan’s assessment to the Vatican, which has 30 days to determine if a formal investigation is warranted. If so, a bishop will be authorized to oversee an investigation.
  • When an investigation is ordered, qualified experts, including laypeople, will conduct it. An investigation is expected to be completed within 90 days and forwarded to the Vatican.
  • Vatican officials will review the findings of the investigation and determine the appropriate process leading to a final judgment.

As each case is filed, the person reporting an incident will be given a case number and password which can be used to follow progress of their particular case.

Individuals who file a report also will be encouraged to contact local law enforcement if they believe they have been a victim of a crime.

Anthony Picarello, USCCB associate general secretary, told the bishops during their fall general assembly in November the system is designed to filter complaints so that only those addressed in the “motu proprio” will be forwarded.

According to a statement from the Archdiocese of Louisville, the system allows individuals to relay reports of a U.S. bishop who has:

  • Forced someone to perform or to submit to sexual acts through violence, threat or abuse of authority.
  • Performed sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person.
  • Produced, exhibited, possessed or distributed child pornography, or recruited or induced a minor or a vulnerable person to participate in pornographic exhibitions.
  • Intentionally interfered with a civil or church investigation into allegations of sexual abuse committed by another cleric or religious. (This includes a cleric overseeing a diocese/eparchy in the absence of a diocesan or eparchial bishop.)

Under CBAR, people with complaints about any other actions of a bishop, such as diocesan assignments, church closings, liturgy or homily content, will be asked to contact the appropriate diocese or eparchy directly.

Allegations of sexual abuse by a priest, deacon, religious, diocesan staff member or volunteer, will be directed to the local diocesan or eparchial victim assistance coordinator under the process that has been in place under the 2002 “Charter for Protection of Children and Young People.”

Pope Francis released his “motu proprio” last May following a worldwide meeting of bishops’ conference leaders at the Vatican early in 2019 to discuss the church’s response to clergy sexual abuse. The document specifically addresses allegations of sexual misconduct and other accusations of actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil or church investigations of such misconduct by clergy.

The “motu proprio” requires dioceses and eparchies worldwide to establish “one or more public, stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports” by May 31.

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