The U.S. bishops got to hear quite a bit: Several victims of clergy sexual abuse delivered strong criticism of the Catholic Church's handling of the major scandal to date at the fall conference of U.S. bishops.
Sharp criticism they also directed against the Vatican. The latter had forbidden the U.S. bishops' conference from publishing a planned charter for dealing with sexual abuse and a code of conduct for bishops until further notice.
The head of the bishops' conference's child abuse review body, Francesco Cesareo, accused its members of lacking transparency and resolve. The faithful are angry and frustrated, she said.
"They are calling for action that points to a cultural change within the leadership of the church. Their distrust will remain until they truly live the principles of openness and transparency that are in the charter," Cesareo said Tuesday in a speech to bishops. They will continue to meet in Baltimore until Wednesday. So far, he said, bishops who covered up abuse too often escaped punishment.
"Protection of assets more important than people"
Already on Monday (local time), representatives of abuse victims had harshly criticized the bishops in Baltimore. The church was more concerned with protecting its assets than with the people entrusted to its care, summarized Luis A. Torres of the Brooklyn diocese's lay council summed up the anger of those affected. He had come to know a church that was "actively hostile to children," the lawyer said in the presence of several bishops. His statements were broadcast live by the media.
Pitt Green, who together with Torres strives for reconciliation in her victims' organization "Spirit Fire Live," spoke about the consequences of abuse for the mostly young victims: suicides, addictions, chronic mental illnesses, broken relationships. "When you hear someone speak like that, it hits you very hard," U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said at a press conference afterward. The victims' statements had been "very moving". "We believe you and we listen to you," promised the bishop of Burlington, Vermont, Christopher J. Coyne.
Church crisis over "abuse of power"
Representatives of Catholic women called on bishops to work with laity to address abuse scandal.
The situation is difficult for bishops, admitted former Leadership Conference of Women Religious president Sister Teresa Maya in Baltimore. The executive director of the National Catholic Youth League, Christiana Lamas, said the cause of the church crisis was "abuse of power". The laymen could help with the reconstruction.
"Courageous shepherds" instead of "fearful sheep"
Meanwhile, Marie Collins, prominent victim of abuse in Ireland's church, criticized the Vatican's directive that U.S. bishops not decide on further action in the abuse scandal before the world bishops' conference in February. "Can anyone still believe now that in the Vatican they see the accountability of church leadership as a priority??", Collins said on her website.
Meanwhile, former nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, released a message to U.S. bishops calling on them to approach the abuse scandal not as "fearful sheep" but as "courageous shepherds".