Accountability takes focus at sexual abuse summit at Vatican

Cardinal Blase Cupich presents church leaders with set of proposals

HOUSTON – The American cardinal tasked by Pope Francis with organizing a summit on sexual abuse at the Vatican presented church leaders with a new set of proposals, which included changes for the process for investigating bishops accused of misconduct.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, of Chicago, presented 12 ideas, including giving laypeople power to investigate accusations of misconduct, instead of waiting for Rome to come up with the answers.

It's the biggest admission yet from the Catholic Church that bishops need to be held accountable.

The bishops have, so far, focused their efforts on two themes: responsibility and accountability. Their most apparent success has been in taking "responsibility" for clergy abuse.

"We are all jointly responsible. All of us, in this synod hall this morning, are jointly responsible to tackle the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clerics all over the world," said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai.

But Friday's focus -- the accountability of the bishops themselves -- has so far involved only discussion.

"I would hope that any bishop who is aware of this kind of misbehavior would certainly make that known to the Holy See, and not feel that, in any way, we should try and cover it up or turn a blind eye," said Cardinal Sean O'Malley, of Boston.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, of Washington, might, at one time, have been part of this assembly, but he was fired by Pope Francis a week ago after years of credible accusations against him.

How will these "highest of priests" be held accountable?

"The situation of Theodore McCarrick is a very, very sad moment in history," Cupich said. "It's a shameful moment, and yet, at the same time, each one of us, it causes each one of us to make sure that we live our lives authentically before the people of God that we serve."

A concrete strategy is unlikely to be adopted in the 24 hours that remain in this summit. Unless these leaders are accountable, how can trust and confidence be restored to a church badly damaged by decades of abuse?

The biggest problem critics have with Cupich's plan is that it still has bishops policing bishops.

Cupich hopes the top leadership of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will consider his proposal next month so that it can be adjusted accordingly and ultimately approved in June, when the American bishops are scheduled to meet.