Archbishop Vigneron: USCCB’s ‘concrete actions’ will hold bishops accountable on abuse

Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron speaks last year during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
DETROIT -- Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron issued a strong endorsement of the actions of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Administrative Committee to establish a confidential third-party reporting system for claims of abuse by bishops and to propose policies regarding restrictions on bishops who resign or are removed because of allegations of sexual abuse.

In a statement released Sept. 20, Archbishop Vigneron said he "wholeheartedly" welcomes and supports the bishops' actions, which add a much-needed layer of transparency and accountability in order to protect young people from predatory behavior.

"As is necessary, this statement presents concrete actions that will lead our Church toward a future of increased accountability and healing," Archbishop Vigneron said. "We, the bishops of this country, pledge to establish stronger reporting systems for allegations of abuse against bishops; develop clearer policies regarding bishops who have been removed from ministry; and implement a specific code of conduct for bishops regarding sexual abuse. Lastly, we reiterate our full support of an investigation into the conduct of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick."

As secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Vigneron is a member of the Administrative Committee that drafted the statement following a Sept. 11-12 meeting in Washington, D.C. The committee, which includes the USCCB's officers, committee chairmen and regional representatives, is the U.S. bishops' highest authority outside of the full body of bishops.

"As a member of the Administrative Committee, I prayerfully accompanied my brother bishops in discussions to develop this message," Archbishop Vigneron said. "My input was informed by the many letters I have received from thoughtful individuals sharing words both of encouragement and critique. I feel the pain of the community and am grateful to those who have urged the Church to embrace true reform."

The archbishop pledged to continue to work with "prayerful diligence" in the Archdiocese of Detroit to ensure children and vulnerable individuals are protected, including "holding all clergy accountable for their actions, including bishops like myself."

While the U.S. bishops' actions are a starting point, they cannot be seen as a "finish line" to the ongoing abuse scandal, Archbishop Vigneron said. Rather, they must serve as inspiration to all those charged with preventing abuse and shining a light on the crisis.

"To that end, I have asked all priests in the archdiocese to prayerfully discern our ongoing efforts to prevent clergy sexual abuse in our communities and to accompany victim-survivors on the path toward healing," Archbishop Vigneron said. "Later this month, I will meet with priests to hear in-person their thoughts and advice. This input, along with words shared by the faithful, will help shape further adjustments and additions to our diocese’s policies on confronting the crime and sin of sexual abuse. I will share those updates with you in the future."

Archbishop Vigneron acknowledged that such action usually only comes after great damage has already been done. He added the bishops need to regain trust after some have not acted as the good shephereds Christ commanded.

"It is with great shame and sorrow that I meditate on the fact that too many leaders of our Church abandoned that vow when they failed to ‘keep watch’ over the most vulnerable in their flocks," Archbishop Vigneron said. "I join my brother deacons, priests and bishops in prayer and penance over these evil acts, and I embrace the call for concrete actions. Please pray for me during this time, and be assured of my prayers for you."

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