The National Review Board overseeing priest sex abuse allegations for the American bishops has called for a lay-led investigation "into all allegations of sexual misconduct within the Church."
In a statement, which the NRB said comes in response to the release of the scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report and recent allegations against the former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, the organization said it supports strengthening a charter aimed at protecting young people established in 2002.
"While the policies and procedures that have been implemented by the Church since 2002 to address the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy have resulted in a significant decrease of such abuse, the revelations of horrific incidents of abuse in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, along with the abuse perpetrated by Archbishop McCarrick point to a systemic problem within the Church that can no longer be ignored or tolerated by the episcopacy in the United States," the statement reads.
It goes on to say, "The National Review Board has for several years expressed its concern that bishops not become complacent in their response to sexual abuse by the clergy. The recent revelations make it clear that the problem is much deeper."
The damning, years-long grand jury report implicates hundreds of Catholic clergy members in six of Pennsylvania’s dioceses of sexually abusing thousands of young victims over many decades, court records revealed. On the heels of the scandal, Pope Francis decried the abuse and met with victims on his visit to Ireland over the weekend.
And during Francis' trip, an 11-page letter released by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano alleged that Francis knew about sexual misconduct allegations against McCarrick, but rehabilitated him anyway. He declined to confirm or deny the allegation.
The grand jury report has brought investigations across the country. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked to meet with Catholic officials in all six Illinois dioceses. Madigan has identified seven priests who served in Illinois from the Pennsylvania report. Cardinal Blase Cupich said Monday he spoke with Madigan and pledged to cooperate as her office launches the investigation.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also this week asked for a meeting with the pope to discuss the crisis.
The National Review Board statement notes:
- “a systemic problem within the Church that can no longer be ignored or tolerated”
- “what needs to happen is a genuine change in the Church’s culture, specifically among the bishops themselves”
- “loss of moral leadership and an abuse of power”
- “independent review into the actions of the bishop when an allegation comes to light”
Dennis M. Doyle, a professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton in Ohio and a Catholic theologian, said the National Review Board's call would be a notable shift in the church's history of a hierarchical authority.
The call for a lay-led investigation, he said, "is an acknowledgment that the people in power can't be in charge of investigating themselves."
The NRB said it supports revising the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, approved in Dallas in 2002, noting it did not include guidelines for bishops. The board was formed in 2002 in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal that started in the Boston Archdiocese and rocked the church globally.