Focus Group:

Lay Oversight of Diocesan Functions

There are many areas within our Church that would benefit from more and better Lay Oversight. Other Focus Groups are investigating lay oversight as a component of their work. This Focus Group is currently putting energies into the two Lay Oversight functions listed below. We welcome those who wish to join us in researching and advocating other Lay Oversight possibilities, for instance, whistleblower protections.

BISHOP’S SELECTION AND PERFORMANCE

There appears to be no doctrinal reason why lay persons should not be part of a process to review a bishop’s performance, which would include the bishop’s oversight of the priests and deacons that report to him. After the PA Grand Jury’s report’s release, our Church needs to introduce new thoughts on governance, transparency and selection of our bishop as well as the ministry for our diocese. This Focus Group will explore and consider how the formation of a diocesan review board could be achieved which would be composed substantially of lay members that would be involved with:

  • The selection process for the appointment of a bishop for the diocese prior to the appointment.
  • Creation of a process to review the performance of the bishop and to help assist the bishop with goals and objectives for the diocese.
  • The selection process for priests and deacons before being assigned to a parish within the diocese.
  • Creation of a process to address and resolve allegations of abuse, financial mismanagement and corruption.

ACCOUNTABILITY OF BISHOPS

The 2002 Dallas Charter and Norms detail how the church should deal with misbehavior by priests but say nothing about how a Bishop who is complicit in the problem of sexual abuse can be held accountable. This “void” in the system was shockingly apparent in the recent scandal of removed Bishop Bransfield in the Diocese of Wheeling, less than 60 miles from Pittsburgh. Canon law also provides no explicit mechanism for dealing with bishops who cover up abuse. There is no principled reason why the Church’s leaders should not be held responsible for serious misconduct or incompetence.

This Focus Group will explore and consider how to achieve the following:

  • A new system under which members of the hierarchy are actually held accountable for the cover up of the sexual abuse of thousands of children. This is essential to restore laity’s trust.
  • Current church policy calls for the dismissal from the clerical state for even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest. Should there be a similar canonical penalty to deal with the serious abuses by Bishops and actually imposed in appropriate cases?
  • Even without extraordinary papal intervention, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) could adopt a policy statement urging brother Bishops to resign voluntarily if they have improperly protected abusive priests.

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