Cardinal O’Malley:  Big Changes Needed in Church

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Roman Catholic bishops in America need accountability, legal transparency, and lay involvement to solve the continuing clergy sex abuse scandal, Cardinal Sean O’Malley said.

O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, released a 632-word statement Thursday afternoon in the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report earlier this week that describes sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children by more than 300 priests in six dioceses in the state.

“The Church must embrace spiritual conversion and demand legal transparency and pastoral accountability for all who carry out its mission,” O’Malley said. “This transformation is not easily achieved, but in all aspects it is imperative.”

O’Malley highlighted the failures of bishops – not only personal moral failings, like those of disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, but also administrative failings. He joins a growing number of Catholic commentators calling for Catholic laypeople to have a greater role in stopping clergy sex abuse and cover-up.

“The crisis we face is the product of clerical sins and clerical failures. As a Church, the conversion, transparency, and accountability we need is only possible with the significant involvement and leadership of lay men and women in our Church, individuals who can bring their competence, experience, and skills to the task we face,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley stressed the urgency of acting.

“As I have stated previously, there are immediate actions that we can and must take. The clock is ticking for all of us in Church leadership,” O’Malley said. “Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us. … We must proceed quickly and with purpose; there is no time to waste.”

O’Malley is one of the most influential bishops in the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. He is one of the 10 members of Pope Francis’s Council of Cardinal Advisers, and he is also a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

He has dealt with clergy sex abuse scandals left by predecessors as bishop of Fall River, Palm Beach, and Boston, generally to acclaim.

But O’Malley hasn’t explained whether he knew about former Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s as a priest and bishop. McCarrick served as a diocesan priest and auxiliary bishop in New York and then as a diocesan bishop in New Jersey before becoming archbishop of Washington in 2001. Since this past June 20, church officials and others have announced details of sexual abuse by McCarrick of at least two teen-age boys in New York and of multiple young-adult seminarians in New Jersey.

Father Boniface Ramsey, a pastor in New York of the Dominican order, says he wrote a letter to O’Malley in June 2015 describing stories of inappropriate behavior by McCarrick. This past July 24, O’Malley released a statement saying that he “did not personally receive” Ramsey’s letter, but that staff of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors “reviewed” the letter “and determined that the matters presented did not fall under the purview of the Commission or the Archdiocese of Boston.”

O’Malley has not said publicly whether the letter was forwarded to the Vatican, or whether he knew about McCarrick’s inappropriate behavior, which appears to have been common knowledge in many Church circles.

Under canon law, bishops do not have the ability to discipline other bishops. Only the pope can punish or remove a bishop.