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Affirming the bishops’ commitment

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight

I am returning to our Diocese believing the bishops of the United States have done the right thing in their work this week to make us more accountable to the lay faithful and priests. We had a robust discussion regarding how to strengthen our response to Pope Francis’ document, Vos Estis Lux Mundi, which concerns how bishops and others responsible for the “right ordering” of our Church respond to allegations of abuse, including abuse of power and direct sexual abuse.

I was one of many bishops pressing for this reform simply because it is the Catholic thing to do:

  1. In the preamble of Vos Estis Lux Mundi, the Holy Father addresses the attitude we bishops should have with regard to the exercise of power and authority of our apostolic office in light of the breach of trust. He does this by quoting Lumen Gentium no. 27. But we could also look to Lumen Gentium no 37, in which the Council Fathers declare that the laity “by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy are permitted and sometimes even obliged [emphasis added] to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the church.”

    Archbishop Christophe Pierre, in his opening remarks to the bishops on June 11, pointed out the Scriptural basis for consulting the whole church as seen in the Acts of the Apostles.

    And, it is the Catholic thing to do, because, unlike most Protestant denominations who do not have a hierarchy as we do, it is all the more important to find a way to bring the laity into solving the mess we as bishops created. If we do not use both laity and hierarchy we are forcing ourselves into a congregationalist mentality.
  2. Lay involvement should be mandatory to make darn sure we bishops don’t do any more harm to the church. It’s necessary to ensure victim survivors are cared for and are treated with the respect they deserve.
  3. Lay involvement is necessary in the event an innocent bishop were to be falsely accused. It would build credibility in a process by which a finding of “not credible” is reached. We cannot rely on “trust the metropolitan.”
  4. Finally, lay involvement is necessary to repair the broken relationship between the bishops and their priests. Ever since the 2002 Charter, many priests feel the failure to include bishops in the Charter was like throwing the priests under the bus. And now that we have experienced this horrible year of bad bishops, the laity too are rightly demanding that something must change.

We have experienced terrible collateral damage because we haven’t been accountable. People have left the Church or stopped participating in the sacramental life of our faith. They have lost trust in our ability to be good shepherds – to fulfill our responsibility to hold the Church together, in a right and good order. This week’s work by our episcopal conference is an important step forward in restoring that trust.