Sex abuse crisis the focus as US Catholic bishops convene

2000 (2)Source: Associated Press

By David Crary

As the Roman Catholic church’s sex abuse scandal grows ever wider in scope in the U.S., bishops convene for a national meeting in Baltimore on Tuesday under heavy pressure to acknowledge their oversight failures and give a larger role to lay Catholics and secular authorities in confronting the crisis.

The pressure comes not only from longtime critics of the church’s response to clergy sex abuse, but also from insiders who now voice doubts that the bishops are capable of handling the crisis on their own. Among them is Francesco Cesareo, chairman of a national sex-abuse review board set up by the bishops.

“My biggest concern is that it’s going to end up being bishops overseeing bishops,” Cesareo told Catholic News Service, the news agency of the U.S. bishops’ conference. “If that’s the case, it’s going to be very difficult for the laity to feel any sense of confidence that anything has truly changed.”

Sex-abuse scandals have beset the Catholic church worldwide for decades, but events of the past year have created unprecedented challenges for the U.S. bishops. Many dioceses have become targets of state investigations since a Pennsylvania grand jury report in August detailed hundreds of cases of alleged abuse. In February, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was expelled from the priesthood for sexually abusing minors and seminarians, and investigators are seeking to determine if some Catholic VIPs covered up his transgressions. Another investigative team recently concluded that Michael Bransfield , a former bishop in West Virginia, engaged in sexual harassment and financial misconduct over many years.

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