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Cardinal Donald Wuerl Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews
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Catholics blast Cardinal Wuerl’s solution to McCarrick sex abuse crisis

Doug Mainwaring Doug Mainwaring Follow Doug

WASHINGTON, DC, August 6, 2018, (LifeSiteNews) – Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s proposal to impanel a committee of bishops to investigate mounting allegations and evidence of systemic problems concerning the handling of sexual misconduct within the ranks of the U.S. bishops is being rejected––by esteemed laity as well as a fellow bishop.

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany just issued a statement in reaction to Cardinal Wuerl’s proposal:

While I am heartened by my brother bishops proposing ways for our Church to take action in light of recent revelations – and I agree that a national panel should be commissioned, duly approved by the Holy See – I think we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer. To have credibility, a panel would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised.

It is time for us, I believe, to call forth the talents and charisms of our lay faithful, by virtue of their baptismal priesthood. Our lay people are not only willing to take on this much-needed role, but they are eager to help us make lasting reforms that will restore a level of trust that has been shattered yet again. In speaking with them, we all hear their passion for our universal Church, their devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and their hunger for the truth. They are essential to the solution we seek.

Note: Bishop Scharfenberger’s entire statement may be read at the end of this article.

The Cardinal’s Proposal

Wuerl’s proposal was made amid the ongoing, increasingly scandal-ridden handling of the disgraced former Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual predation.

“I think it's very important that we ... as bishops enter into that world and say, ‘If there is an accumulation of rumors, ought not something be said?’” Cardinal Wuerl told the National Catholic Reporter in a telephone interview.

“Would we have some sort of a panel, a board, of bishops ... where we would take it upon ourselves, or a number of bishops would be deputed, to ask about those rumors?” wondered the Cardinal. “It seems to me that's one possibility, that there would be some way for the bishops, and that would mean working through our conference ... to be able to address the question of sustained rumors.”

Respected Catholic laity: “With all due respect, no way”

“No. We are way, way, way beyond ‘panels’ of bishops investigating other bishops,” said the Acton Institute’s director of research, Samuel Gregg, in response to Wuerl in a Facebook post.  

“Such a suggestion reflects a mentality which is symptomatic of the problem,” continued Gregg.  “We need a lay-lead tribunal which is given full powers to investigate all accusations against bishops, to open up all the files on payouts, etc. There can be no more ‘business as usual.’ Any bishop who doesn’t understand that is part of the problem.”

On Twitter, Gregg was emphatic:  “We are way, way beyond ‘panels.’ Not. Good. Enough.”

“[T]he investigation should not be done by a panel or panels of bishops,” said Princeton’s esteemed Robert P. George, commenting on Wuerl’s proposal.  “It needs to be a lay investigation. In fact, I don't think it should be done by a panel of any kind. It should be conducted by an individual functioning as the equivalent of a special counsel.  Of course, that individual will need a team, but ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the investigation and for its findings and recommendations should lie with him or her.”

“Bishops investigating bishops! What could go wrong?” asked Catholic author and  assistant professor of dogmatic theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Dawn Eden Goldstein in a tweet.

“Yes, there should be a panel– there should be panels in every diocese and every deanery, ready to look into serious allegations made against any representative of the Church,” said Elizabeth Scalia writing at her The Anchoress Blog.  “But with all due respect, sir, no, there ought not be a bishop residing on a single one of them.”

“There is an old Roman saying, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards?)  In a sense that needs to be asked, now,” continued Scalia.  “The suggestion that the laity and the priests who trusted the bishops to do the right thing before — and have been amply burned for it — should just trust the bishops to do the right thing again would be farcical if it were not so insulting.”

“Wuerl’s remarks suggest that he really has no idea how catastrophic the revelations about Theodore McCarrick’s long-standing abuses (about which too many Cardinals and Bishops profess themselves ‘Shocked, shocked’ as they slouch toward Eternity via Casablanca) have been to the trust of the laity. Let me spell it out: That trust has been shattered. It no longer exists,” she added.  

“[T]he same rules that have been applied to priests need to be applied to bishops who either covered up abuse by those that were under their authority, or themselves, as in the case of McCarrick committed abuses,” said Faith and Reason Institute president Robert Royal in an EWTN discussion last week.   

“If a pastor commits these crimes, he’s off the job,” added canon lawyer Fr. Gerald Murray. “If a bishop commits these crimes, people are paid off and told to be quiet.  This is unjust.”

Concern about the former Pittsburgh prelate’s past  

Cardinal Wuerl’s statement to NCR comes just days before the Pennsylvania Attorney General is expected to release an exhaustive grand jury report on clerical sexual abuse in six of the state’s Catholic dioceses, reaching back several decades, to the present.

The report is said to name at least 300 priests, with nearly a third of them from the Pittsburgh diocese, headed by Wuerl from 1988 to 2006, when he was made Archbishop of Washington, DC.

“A fact largely unknown to the public,” begins a recent in-depth report by Church Militant, “Wuerl was named in multiple lawsuits during his tenure there, accused of conspiring to cover up sex abuse.”

The Church Militant report goes on to recount several examples of Wuerl mishandling of priests who committed sexual abuse; sending them back to parish work after completing time in counseling centers; failure to report sexual abuse by priests to the authorities;  and rendering only minimal cooperation at times he did work with the police. 

That the bishops have failed is “a bit of an understatement”

Perhaps chaste same-sex attracted Catholic, Thomas Berryman, said it best:

Pop psychology definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. I'm afraid our bishops have had over a decade to police themselves and to say that they have failed is a bit of an understatement. People who promote and benefit from corruption usually shouldn't be the ones to clean up the corruption.

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BISHOP SCHARFENBERGER: LAITY ARE “ESSENTIAL,” MUST LEAD ANY INVESTIGATION

Statement by Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany

While I am heartened by my brother bishops proposing ways for our Church to take action in light of recent revelations – and I agree that a national panel should be commissioned, duly approved by the Holy See – I think we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer. To have credibility, a panel would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised.

It is time for us, I believe, to call forth the talents and charisms of our lay faithful, by virtue of their baptismal priesthood. Our lay people are not only willing to take on this much-needed role, but they are eager to help us make lasting reforms that will restore a level of trust that has been shattered yet again. In speaking with them, we all hear their passion for our universal Church, their devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and their hunger for the truth. They are essential to the solution we seek.

What is needed now is an independent commission led by well-respected, faithful lay leaders who are beyond reproach, people whose role on such a panel will not serve to benefit them financially, politically, or personally. These will be people with a deep understanding of the Catholic faith, but without an axe to grind or an agenda to push. It will not be easy, but it will be worth every ounce of effort, energy, and candor we can muster.

We bishops want to rise to this challenge, which may well be our last opportunity considering all that has happened. We must get this right. I am confident we can find a way to look outside ourselves, to put this in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and to entrust our very capable lay people, who have stood with us through very difficult times, to help us do the right thing. We need an investigation — the scope of which is not yet defined but must be defined — and it must be timely, transparent and credible.

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