The Catholic Church needs “new legal structures of accountability” for bishops accused of sexual abuse or of negligence in handling abuse allegations, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago told the Vatican summit on safeguarding.
Addressing Pope Francis and some 190 presidents of bishops’ conferences, heads of Eastern Catholic churches, religious superiors and officials of the Roman Curia today, Cardinal Cupich provided details of what some people have described as a “metropolitan model” of accountability, although he insisted the model would involve laypeople.
Church territories are grouped into provinces with an archdiocese, which is the metropolitan see, and neighbouring dioceses. Under the current law governing the Latin-rite church, the archbishop or cardinal leading the metropolitan see has very little responsibility for the province; that would change under Cardinal Cupich’s proposal.
The guidelines also would name an alternate – perhaps the neighbouring metropolitan or the senior diocesan bishop – in cases where the accused is the metropolitan archbishop.
The proposal made by Cardinal Cupich at the Vatican summit on child protection and the clerical abuse scandal was similar to one he made in November to the full US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The cardinal also included elements of proposals the US bishops had planned to vote on in November, but the Vatican had asked them to hold off until after the February 21-24 Vatican summit. The common elements included setting up a toll-free number or website for reporting bishops and establishing a fund to pay for investigations of bishops accused of abuse or negligence.
The Chicago prelate told reporters later that his presentation had two main differences from what the US bishops initially proposed: using metropolitans gives the process a regional character that is especially important for ensuring outreach to and follow up with the victim; and the US bishops’ proposal was voluntary, whereas his would be obligatory.