Bishop: Lay Faithful, not Bishops, Must Investigate McCarrick and Coverup



Statement by Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany:

While I am heartened by my brother bishops proposing ways for our Church to take action in light of recent revelations – and I agree that a national panel should be commissioned, duly approved by the Holy See – I think we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer. To have credibility, a panel would have to be separated from any source of power whose trustworthiness might potentially be compromised.

It is time for us, I believe, to call forth the talents and charisms of our lay faithful, by virtue of their baptismal priesthood. Our lay people are not only willing to take on this much-needed role, but they are eager to help us make lasting reforms that will restore a level of trust that has been shattered yet again. In speaking with them, we all hear their passion for our universal Church, their devotion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and their hunger for the truth. They are essential to the solution we seek.

What is needed now is an independent commission led by well-respected, faithful lay leaders who are beyond reproach, people whose role on such a panel will not serve to benefit them financially, politically or personally. These will be people with a deep understanding of the Catholic faith, but without an axe to grind or an agenda to push. It will not be easy, but it will be worth every ounce of effort, energy and candor we can muster.

We bishops want to rise to this challenge, which may well be our last opportunity considering all that has happened. We must get this right. I am confident we can find a way to look outside ourselves, to put this in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and to entrust our very capable lay people, who have stood with us through very difficult times, to help us do the right thing. We need an investigation — the scope of which is not yet defined but must be defined — and it must be timely, transparent and credible.

I hope the other bishops listen to Bishop Scharfenberger. Even if the USCCB picks the best, holiest, most upstanding bishops in the country, if there are not laity on the investigative commission, it will do very little to restore trust.


I agree with this bishop. The U.S. bishops as a whole have no credibility left to do their own investigating. There needs to be a panel of lay faithful given full authority to investigate allegations of sexual abuse and coverups by bishops. And they need to be given full, complete, and real authority by Rome, not just on paper, and not have their feet pulled out from under them at the last minute (like the recent financial investigations in Rome). There can be no more stonewalling by the bishops in refusing to turn over documents and make evidence available. The bishops need to be required to completely and fully cooperate or face real consequences.


Already being done


Chicago also had a “lay review board” for a long time. This article is from 2002. It discusses flaws in that model, but given that we are now 15 years down the road, I would hope they addressed the flaws by now. In any event, lay people were involved.


Cardinal Dolan also has a lay review board including “jurists, law enforcement experts, parents, and psychologists” doing investigations, and that board is what blew the whistle on McCarrick.

Lay involvement is a good idea, but hardly a new idea


Right. I think most dioceses have laity on their Safe Environment review board.

Cardinal Wuerl had made some remarks positing an investigative commission made up of bishops. Scharfenberger is saying laity need to be involved, too. As you noted, this has been the case for years when investigating priests for sexual abuse. So it shouldn’t be any great leap to do the same when the person being investigated is a bishop.


I do think a group comprised only of clergy isn’t enough. But any group will never truly be independent. Who will do the appointing? If it is the bishops then that doesn’t really get us independence.


I think you’ve hit upon the principal problem here - no matter who appoints any theoretical panel, it may never truly be independent. If the bishops appoint the panel, well that’s a conflict of interest right there. And if it isn’t the bishops doing the appointing, then that leaves the Pope or someone in Rome doing it. And that doesn’t guarantee independence either; in the past investigations are started at the Vatican on various matters and then quashed before they can find anything incriminating. There’s no guarantee that a Pope, and not just our current Pope, but any Pope, will be unbiased and truly give such a panel real power, and not just a token charter and then they get ignored when they actually try to do something (e.g., the Vatican abuse panel which I think still exists but hasn’t done much of anything).

I think the only way that this problem will ever be solved is if the Church, from the very top, take extreme measures to clear out the pedophiles, homosexuals, and any priests that break their vow of chastity. I don’t mean just reacting and removing someone when they do something bad - I mean actively seeking them out and kicking them out. And implementing stringent measures to root out potential offenders before they are ordained. This of course, would require strong, committed, orthodox bishops to be appointed, and that doesn’t seem to be happening currently. I don’t think the willpower to effectively tackle this problem exists right now in the Vatican (see Pope Francis’ handling of Bishop Barros’ appointment over the objections of the rest of the Chilean bishops as an example of why I am not optimistic).


I wonder what authority such a group would have. The laity cannot take action to remove or laicize any priest they determine to have acted inappropriately. Unless the Pope is willing to establish this board and act on the results of the board it is an exercise in futility.


The word that describes what we need is an inquisition. I’m not joking. One of the things the inquisition did was root out sodomy particularly pederasty. Many pederasts back then were priests. This is exactly the problem we have now.


An article addressing these theoretical “independent panels” was posted by Phil Lawler today:

In the end, he gets to the key point, that the only one who can really put something like this into practice is the Pope himself, not a council of bishops. Only the Pope could force the bishops to give testimony and turn over evidence to an independent group of lay people.

To be quite blunt, I don’t see this happening under Pope Francis. He does not seem like the type of person who would be willing to cede some of his authority to a group of lay persons or to give them real power to compel the resignation of bishops. I think the best we can hope for is that the Vatican takes a more active hand in directly investigating these kinds of cases like the McCarrick scandal and questioning the bishops on their culpability in these matters.

Also, in another dose of reality, don’t expect to see any resignations of other bishops with regards to the McCarrick scandal like there were in Chile. Most of the bishops who were in key positions to know about the settlements and rumors surrounding McCarrick are Pope Francis’ favorites (e.g., Farrel, Tobin, Wuerl).


I agree that it’s a concern that needs to be addressed, but I don’t think it’s insurmountable. As the link TisBear shared above shows, the lay people on some diocesan safe environment panels aren’t even always fully active Catholics. I know that was the case in my old diocese. The diocese chose judges and lawyers and other people based on their qualifications, not based on their Catholic faith. That is because the bishop desired transparency and accountability.

I see no reason why it couldn’t work similarly here. The USCCB commissioned the John Jay report back in 2002 to have an impartial 3rd party do a factual study, even if it didn’t make the Church look good. I think there are enough good bishops and it is certainly in the public consciousness. They would continue to lose trust if they just appoint a bunch of higher level diocesan employees. I think they can find people who will be impartial. What is the alternative? For a bunch of lay people to get together and take it upon themselves to form a commission? That won’t go anywhere.

Yes, ultimately it is the pope who will have to supply the authority. I can’t imagine, though, that if a lay commission presented their findings and recommendations that the pope would just dismiss it. If you look at what happened in Chile, Pope Francis shrugged it off initially, but not anymore. I think it was a major wakeup call.


Perhaps he would be willing to listen to them. I guess there is no way to know for sure unless he actually puts a group together and lets them loose without condition. I think the only reason Pope Francis changed his stance on Chile is because he was being personally attacked by the media and even bishops, such as Cardinal O’Malley, over his statements accusing the victims of calumny during his trip to the country. If he had never made those statements and felt the heat for them I think it’s a fair question to ask if anything would have been done there at all. And then there’s the much flaunted sexual abuse commission that was set up in the Vatican to much fanfare years ago and hasn’t really done anything of note; at least one of the members has resigned in protest over the lack of cooperation from Rome. So I guess at least for me my mindset is I’ll believe action will be taken when I see it actually happen.


Fair enough. I’m still holding out hope that we will see action taken. But it’s clear that something needs to happen.


tseleehw . . ,

I agree with this bishop. The U.S. bishops as a whole have no credibility left to do their own investigating.

Somebody could ask “WHY” the bishops have lost so much credibility in this sphere?

And I suppose the obvious answer would be, because they have failed to clean up their own issues.

Then someone will ask “WHY” did the Bishops neglect to clean their own house?

And I hope and pray that those answers will be made clearer in the coming weeks and months ahead, and that real substantial “disinfecting” will occur in this sphere and all of the Church.


Catholic Answers own Jimmy Akin back in 2013 wrote this in the National Catholic Register that may be helpful . . . .

JUN. 12, 2013

Pope Francis and the Vatican “gay lobby”—10 things to know and share

Jimmy Akin

Pope Francis recently made the news by, apparently, acknowledging the existence of a “gay lobby” at the Vatican.

What did he say? What did he mean? And what will he do in the future?

Here are 10 things to know and share . . .

1. What did Pope Francis say?

According to press reports, Pope Francis recently said:

"In the Curia there are holy people, truly, there are holy people. But there’s also a current of corruption – there’s that, too, it’s true… The ‘gay lobby’ is spoken of, and it’s true, that’s there… we need to see what we can do.”

2. Where and when did he say this?

According to Rocco Palmo:

The comments were purportedly made during an hourlong audience the Pope held last Thursday with the Religious Confederation of Latin America and the Caribbean (CLAR).

An unsigned “exclusive, brief synthesis” of the encounter – featuring a series of pull-quotes, but not a full transcript – was apparently provided to and subsequently published on Sunday afternoon by Reflexión y Liberación , a church-focused Chilean website with sympathies toward liberation theology.

These thus were not public remarks, which raises a question about their authenticity.

3. Did he really say it?

My guess is that he did. The quotations sound very much like Pope Francis, they hit his characteristic themes, and they display the kind of unguarded frankness that he is known for.

Furthermore, the Vatican Press Office made what, in Watergate parlance, might be termed a “non-confirmation confirmation.” Rocco notes:

Amid requests for comment on the substance of the following, the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi told CNN that “It was a private meeting. I have no comment to make.”

UPDATE: It’s being reported that the site which originally published the conversation has been “backing away” from the gay lobby claim. You can read about that here.

While they are adding a few qualifiers, they aren’t backing away all that far. Apparently the conversation was transcribed from memory rather than a recording, . . .

. . . Any sizeable group of people is going to have people who suffer from same-sex attraction (SSA) and some who act on it.

Such individuals are likely to have learned of each others’ existence and formed a network of some kind.

But a network is not the same thing as a “lobby.” . . .

See the whole article here. . . .


Thanks for posting that again - I’ve seen some people here claim that there never was a gay lobby in the Vatican but we’ve had two Popes in a row now acknowledge its existence. Whether or not it still holds sway there is an open question. Pope Benedict has spoken on how he was proud of dismantling it during his papacy but it seems to have made a comeback in recent years, not just in Rome, but in a lot of the Church (the organizers of the World Meeting of the Families have been caught disseminating homosexual propaganda several times already, for example).


tseleehw . . .

Thanks for posting that again - I’ve seen some people here claim that there never was a gay lobby in the Vatican but we’ve had two Popes in a row now acknowledge its existence.

You are welcome.

Jimmy Akin (yet again) had the foresight of a prophet.

It is going to be a tough ride for the Church as they get this mess settled out.

But we as Catholics know tremendous attacks have occurred from within in Church history before (i.e. Arianism).

And yet the Church, because it was founded and is held up from Jesus Christ, always comes out of these things stronger. (The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ)

. . . and St. Jerome could say: "The whole world groaned in astonishment to find itself Arian.


From a recent blog by Rod Dreher:

“After that conversation, I thought about orthodox (theologically conservative) Catholic bishops who are not sexually compromised, and who have the power to clean up these sexually corrupt messes in their dioceses — corrupt in terms of acts and teaching — but who leave things alone. Why don’t they do so?

Might the answer be: because they sense that the problem is such that if they really tried to clean up the mess, they wouldn’t know for sure which pillars and walls would fall?”


Thanks for the Dreher article link JimG.

He talks about (among other things) the culture of secrecy that is fostered right into their priestly formation.

That can be good in some respects and terrible in some respects too.

But I think Dreher and “N.” are on to something here.

I mentioned (among other things) in another post . . .

In addition a public statement (from the USCCB) releasing all people (including priests) from any and all non-disclosure agreements would also go a long way to help win back trust.

Parenthesis above added for context.

Again thank you for posting that interesting article link.

God bless.


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