On Monday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will convene for its 2018 Fall General Assembly—a meeting that may be one of the most important in the history of American Catholicism.
The American bishops are the subjects of federal and state investigations into sexual abuse and cover-ups. Some are accused of sexual abuse and coercion, others of standing by as priests and fellow bishops engaged in abuse. Some bishops could face indictments, or charges of a criminal conspiracy that reaches all the way to the Vatican.
As a body, the bishops are accused of failing to police themselves, failing to keep their pledges, and failing to take seriously the teachings of their own faith and the responsibilities of their offices. By their own admission, they have lost credibility with the shrinking cohort of Catholics who actually practice the faith.
The bishops hope to use the Fall General Assembly to restore trust among Catholics who are sickened by the Church’s “summer of hell.” They also want to persuade criminal investigators that they are part of the solution to problems they say were caused mostly by their predecessors.
Those are ambitious goals.
Neither the bishops nor lay Catholics should expect too much from a single three-day meeting. On the agenda are modest but sensible policy proposals: The bishops intend to establish an independent board of lay experts charged with investigating allegations of coercion, malfeasance, or neglect on the part of bishops; they intend to pass protocols limiting the activity of bishops who have been removed from office; and they plan to publish a code of conduct governing all bishops. (The final point is for now the most nebulous, even to the bishops, but it at least suggests a recognition that bishops must be held to clear, objective, and transparent standards.)
Read more at First Things.