My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I recently returned from the General Assembly meeting for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and I am encouraged by the progress that was made during this meeting. Many topics were discussed, but at the forefront of our discussions were ways to hold bishops accountable for abuse and/or negligence in reporting abuse.
This past year has been a very difficult one for our Church and I wish to share some of the important steps that were taken during this meeting.
We approved the establishment of a national third-party (i.e. independent) abuse reporting system. This system will be available to receive confidential reports of potential violations by bishops, including abuse allegations and allegations of misconduct. The system will be operational no later than May 31, 2020 and reports may be made via phone and online.
Additionally, we also approved the measure, “Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments,” which implements a code of conduct for all bishops, including an affirmation that the 2002 Dallas Charter does apply to bishops, priests and deacons equally. Under this measure, all bishops promise to have a zero-tolerance policy for abuse and to follow any and all codes of conduct of our respective dioceses.
We also approved non-penal restrictions that can be placed on a former bishop who resigns or is removed from office due to grave reasons. This protocol allows the USCCB president to restrict bishops who were removed or resigned for reasons related to sexual abuse or abuse of power.
Moreover, we approved a plan to implement Pope Francis’s recent Motu proprio in the United States, including an outline for the involvement of the laity.
I wish to assure you that reporting all abuse allegations to a third-party (i.e. law enforcement), having a zero-tolerance policy for abuse of any kind, following all codes of conduct and including lay members in Diocesan oversight are already procedures that have been followed for as long as I have been your Bishop.
While these steps will never erase the harms done in the past, they are positive steps forward and a firm commitment from the bishops to protect all children and to hold all offenders accountable. These procedures are still in the early stages, but we as a Diocese will continue to update the faithful as new details are available. As always, if you have a question regarding our response to clergy abuse and our path forward, please contact me at AskBishopGainer@HBGdiocese.org.
I pray that the Lord will continue to bless each of you and our Church during this season of renewal.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Ronald W. Gainer
Bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg