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Bishop Paul Sirba: Steps to hold bishops accountable were taken at USCCB meeting

Jul 1, 2019

At our June meeting, the bishops of the United State of America approved documents to hold bishops accountable for instances of sexual abuse of children or vulnerable persons, sexual misconduct, or the intentional mishandling of such cases. We committed to involving lay professional experts. We also established a new, independent mechanism for the reporting of such cases.

Bishop Paul Sirba
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Following the Apostolic Letter, or motu proprio, issued by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, in May 2019, which strengthened current practice for the universal Church by establishing broad mandatory internal reporting, establishing whistleblower protection for those making those reports, expanding the definition of vulnerable adults to include anyone coerced into sexual acts through an abuse of power, and reiterating and clarifying that bishops are subject to the universal law of the Church that forbids sexual abuse and its intentional mishandling of cases, the U.S. bishops added significant new measures.

In addition, our votes in June mean that the bishops will establish a national reporting system for complaints against bishops. This will reaffirm our commitment to place ourselves under the very same codes of conduct that hold priests, deacons, and employees accountable. It includes prohibitions on sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct and made more explicit the fraternal correction necessary when a brother bishop fails in his obligations to the people of God, such as restricting the privilege to participate in the USCCB.

While these new initiatives or in some cases refinements of protocols and policies we have had in the United States dioceses since 2002 are concrete steps to hold bishops accountable, they are still a work in progress, and we will need constant vigilance. It will continue to be the work of our lifetime.

The full text of the pope’s motu proprio, entitled “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the Light of the World”), as well as the reforms we voted on at the June meeting of the USCCB, are available on the new website the USCCB launched June 7: www.usccbprevention.org.

I received an advance copy of Bishop Robert Barron’s book, “Letter to a Suffering Church: a Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis.” I know many of our priests have received a copy already, and I ordered copies for the pastoral center staff and our deacons. I recommend this fine piece to you. I share the sentiments of Bishop Barron. We are contemporaries, ordained the same year as priests. He traces the painful reality of clergy sexual abuse, calling the recent crisis “the Devil’s Masterpiece.” He also proposes the way forward, which is to stay and fight.

Above all, among the compelling arguments he offers for reforming the clergy and by extension all the rest of us is to fight by our pursuit of holiness in our own lives. Fight by becoming the saint that you are meant to be.

During this month of July, when, please God many are able to take some vacation days or at least some time to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in a Minnesota summer, we can bring to God our needs and bask in His love. Jesus is victorious through His cross and resurrection and we can never forget that.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.