Mass. bishops release statement ahead of abuse summit

BRAINTREE -- The bishops of the four Catholic dioceses of Massachusetts released a statement to be distributed at all Massachusetts parishes Feb. 16-17 in preparation for the upcoming Vatican summit addressing sexual abuse and accountability in the Church.

The letter was addressed to the Catholics of the commonwealth and jointly signed by Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston, Worcester Bishop Robert McManus, Springfield Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, and Fall River Bishop Edgar da Cunha.

James Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, said the bishops discussed the upcoming summit at their regular, quarterly board meeting of the MCC and decided to issue that statement to "what's been done, what is going on now, and what we can expect."

Father J. Bryan Hehir, secretary of Health and Social Services for the Archdiocese of Boston, told the Pilot that "the sense that something needed to be said or would be useful to say came simply from the fact that this is going to be a complicated meeting and there'll be lots of press coverage leading up to it."

The letter begins with an apology to abuse survivors and their families as well as the Catholic community "for the seemingly unending nature of this scandal."

The bishops wrote that the purpose of issuing the statement was "to provide perspective on the meeting" and summarize the events of the past, the ongoing crisis in the present, and expectations for the future.

Regarding the past, Father Hehir said, the bishops wanted "to emphasize that since 2002 a number of measures have been put in place" for caring for victims and creating prevention and education programs.

The bishops said they "acknowledge the record includes gaps and failures as well as successful implementation of these policies. At the same time, the Church in the rest of the world has experienced the abuse crisis in different ways at different times."

In a section on the present situation, the bishops explained a shift took place in 2018, when bishops realized the Dallas Charter, which promises a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse committed by priests, had not ensured accountability for bishops and cardinals. The U.S. bishops proposed the establishment of a lay-led oversight review committee and a method for reporting bishops and cardinals implicated in sexual abuse. The Holy See asked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to wait until after the Summit Meeting before taking action on that proposal.

The Summit Meeting, the bishops said, will include presidents of over 180 Episcopal Conferences from around the world. Cardinal O'Malley will participate as the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Children.

The goal of the summit, according to Pope Franics, is "catechesis" of the episcopal conferences. The Massachusetts bishops said one way to interpret this is the creation of "a strong consensus" of zero tolerance of sexual abuse and the development and implementation of programs for education and prevention.

The bishops asked the Catholics of Massachusetts to pray for all involved in the summit and appreciate that "a three-day meeting will not produce a finished and final plan for a global Church of 1.2 billion people. Demanding but also realistic expectations will be helpful for us all."

The bishops once again pledged their commitment to "all those measures of care, counseling, education and healing needed to abolish the scourge of sexual abuse throughout the Church."

"They know this is an unfinished reality and it will take years to put everything in place but it must be done urgently," Father Hehir said.

The Vatican summit on sex abuse prevention will take place Feb. 21-24.