Bishops agree to begin review of charter earlier than planned

Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, listens to a question during a Nov. 17, 2021, session of the bishops' fall general assembly in Baltimore. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the first in-person bishops' meeting since 2019. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- An update on the U.S. bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" will take place sooner than originally planned.

On Nov. 17, the second of two days of public sessions during their fall general assembly Nov. 15-18 in Baltimore, the bishops voted to begin the process of updating the charter in 2022 rather than in 2025. The vote was 230 bishops in favor of the plan and five bishops against it.

Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, chairman of the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, told the bishops that events in recent years made it necessary to start the review sooner than expected.

The bishops most recently approved charter revisions in 2018 and set a seven-year period for future reviews. The review that led to these changes began in 2013 and took five years to complete because of various legal questions that arose as the process unfolded.

Among the events Bishop Johnston cited for starting the new review earlier were changes in the Code of Canon Law regarding penal sanctions in the church that take effect in December; Pope Francis' May 2019 motu proprio, "Vos Estis Lux Mundi," revising and clarifying norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable for protecting abusers; and the Vatican report on the investigation into allegations of abuse by Theodore McCarrick, former cardinal and archbishop of Washington.

"To wait until 2025 to begin our charter review is simply too long to wait," Bishop Johnston said.

The review is expected to begin after the bishops' spring general assembly in June, the bishop said. He did not provide a timeline for completion of the review.

The charter was originally established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002. It is a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

It includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of future acts. Before the 2018 revisions, the charter had been revised twice before -- in 2005 and 2011.

For the new review, input will be sought from several USCCB committees and offices, the leadership of men and women religious organizations, and "other organizations with expertise," Bishop Johnston added.

Retired Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, urged that the review be expanded to include events surrounding priests accused of abuse and the lengthy investigations surrounding such claims. He said that investigation that can take as long as two years is too long for a priest who is innocent of an allegation to be cleared by church officials.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Sept. 1 determined that allegations of sexual abuse of a minor made against Bishop DiMarzio were found "not to have the semblance of truth." The allegations surfaced in November 2019 and took 10 months to be resolved.

Auxiliary Bishop Mark W. O'Connell of Boston suggested the review process also explore the possibility that the charter can be expanded to include vulnerable adults.


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