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Pope accepts resignation of two more Chilean bishops

Vatican City, Sep 21, 2018 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of two Chilean bishops, the Holy See has announced. The decision brings the total number of prelates to have had their resignations accepted by the pope to 7, following the allegations of systemic sexual abuse and cover ups by Church authorities.

The removal of Bishop Carlos Pellegrín Barrera of Chillán and Bishop Cristián Contreras Molina of San Felipe was confirmed in the daily Bollettino of the Holy See Press Office. It was also confirmed that no successors had yet been chosen.

Instead, the dioceses will be led temporarily by apostolic administrators appointed by the pope. Two religious priests were named as having been chosen to take over from the bishops.

Fr. Sergio Pérez de Acre Arriagada, a priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, will administer the Diocese of Chillán. Fr. Pérez has been serving as the rector of the church of the Sacred Hearts in Valparaiso.

Fr. Jaime Ortiz de Lazcano Piquer, S.V.D., will serve as the temporary head of the Diocese of San Felipe. Fr. Ortiz is currently the Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese of Santiago.

On May 17, 2018, almost the entire Chilean hierarchy presented their resignations to the Holy Father after accusations emerged concerning the suppression of allegations of sexual abuse, the transfer of suspected or known abusers between parishes, interference in canonical investigations and pressuring the investigators themselves, and destroying evidence. 

A subsequent investigation conducted by Archbishop Charles Scicluna produced a final report more than 2,000 pages long.

The sexual abuse crisis in Chile, although a serious local concern for some time, came to international attention following a visit by Pope Francis to that country in January 2018. Initial focus centered on the ministry of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who was accused of protecting Fernando Karadima, a priest and serial sexual abuser of children.

Karadima was convicted of sexual abuse by a Vatican court in 2011, at the age of 84.

During the papal visit, the pope appeared to dismiss Barros’ accusers, saying he had not seen any credible evidence against the bishop.

Several of Karadima’s victims, led by Mr. Juan Carlos Cruz, had previously sought to present their accusations to Pope Francis, following Barros’ appointment to Osorno. Although submitting a written plea to the pope through Cardinal O’Malley, Francis subsequently said he had not personally received it and offered a personal apology for his handling of the matter.

The media scrutiny which followed the pope’s visit resulted in the scale of the sexual abuse scandal in Chile becoming clear, leading to a crisis meeting between the pope and the Chilean bishops in May.

Since then, Chilean civil authorities have raided several diocesan chanceries, seizing document and issuing subpoenas to numerous Church officials.  

Cardinal Tobin will not attend Oct. Vatican synod

Newark, N.J., Sep 21, 2018 / 09:21 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Newark has announced that he will not attend an October gathering of bishops slated to discuss young adults and vocational discernment. The archbishop cited his pastoral obligations in the archdiocese amid the U.S. Church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis.

“This Synod is a uniquely important moment in the life of the Church, and I was honored to have been named by the Holy Father as a member of this special gathering whose topic, Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, is of vital concern to the Church today and in the future,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin wrote in a Sept. 21 letter to Newark’s Catholics.

“However, as you are aware, the Archdiocese of Newark suffers greatly as a result of the crisis that continues to unfold. After the revelations of the past summer, I could not see myself absent for a month from our archdiocese and from you, the people entrusted to my care. After prayer and consultation, I wrote to Pope Francis, asking that he dispense me from attending, but assuring him that I strongly support the objectives of the Synod and that I would obey whatever he decided.”

“The Holy Father responded the next day with a beautiful pastoral and compassionate message. He told me that he understands why I need to stay close to home, and he released me from the obligation to attend the Synod next month,” Tobin added.

Tobin was a personal appointment of Pope Francis for attendance at the synod of bishops, which will take place Oct. 3-28 in Rome.

Other U.S. bishops who will attend are Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who was also appointed by Pope Francis to attend, along with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop José H. Gomez, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, and Bishop Robert E. Barron, who were elected as delegates by the U.S. bishops’ conference, and Archbishop William Skurla, leader of the Ruthenian Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, will participate as an ex officio member of the synod.

On Sept. 19, Dutch Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, elected by his country's episcopal conference, also announced that he would not attend the synod.

According to a statement from the Dutch bishops' conference, Mutsaerts "informed Pope Francis that he does not find the right time to keep a synod about young people, in view of the investigations and the news about sexual abuse that has been brought out in America, among others. He therefore chooses not to participate."

Tobin’s Archdiocese of Newark has been the subject of controversy in recent months. In June, retired Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, formerly of Newark, was revealed to have been credibly accused of serially sexually abusing a teenage boy in the 1970s. McCarrick was subsequently accused of serially sexually abusing another teenage boy, and of sexually coercing and assaulting numerous priests and seminarians for decades.

Tobin told a journalist in late August that he had heard rumors shortly after his 2017 arrival in the Archdiocese of Newark about McCarrick's sexual misconduct. He said he did not investigate those rumors because he found them unbelievable.

In August, after reports emerged about homosexual behavior among some Newark priests, and allegations were made public regarding the conduct of a former seminary administrator, Tobin told Newark priests that no priest had “ever spoken to me about a gay subculture in the Archdiocese of Newark.”

Later that month, Seton Hall University announced an independent investigation into allegations of misconduct at Newark’s Immaculate Conception Seminary, which is connected to the university.

In his Sept. 21 letter, Tobin said that during a Sept. 14 prayer service at Newark’s cathedral, “I promised that we will act decisively to address the sins and injustices that have been committed against our most vulnerable sisters and brothers and to ensure that victims receive justice. I also acknowledged that rebuilding trust in the leadership of our Church at all levels will require authentic and measurable change.”

“I am keenly aware that words alone are not enough. We must show by our actions that justice will be done. Never again will we permit the horrific abuses that occurred here and in too many other places in our Church. Never again will we return to ‘business as usual,’ allowing human wickedness, sin or hypocrisy to blind us from the truth or prevent us from doing God’s work.”

Tobin asked that Newark’s Catholics pray for Pope Francis and the synod, saying that “during the month of October, and throughout the months and years ahead, I will do everything in my power to lead this Archdiocese through processes of renewal and change that break down structures and systems that permit or foster abuse in any form.”

“I will work for justice, healing and compassion for all.”

 

Ed. note: This story is developing and has been updated.

 

Blessed Stanley Rother shrine fundraising campaign surpasses initial goal

Oklahoma City, Okla., Sep 21, 2018 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City announced Tuesday that its capital campaign, one of the goals of which is the construction of a shrine for Blessed Stanley Rother, had surpassed its original $65 million goal.

“I have been grateful and humbled by the generosity of families across the archdiocese who have supported this historic campaign,” Archbishop Paul Coakley said Sept. 18. “We have been blessed to have the powerful witness of Blessed Stanley to help guide us as we build upon his legacy for future generations.”

In addition to the shine for the Oklahoma priest who was martyred in 1981 in Guatemala, the One Church, Many Disciples campaign will fund local parishes and schools, renovation of the cathedral, evangelization efforts, faith formation endowments, and retirement for elderly priests.

The Blessed Stanley Rother shrine will be built in Oklahoma City off of I-35, and will house the relics of the martyr. According to the Oklahoma City archdiocese, it will include a 2,000-seat church, a chapel, ministry and classroom buildings, a museum, and a pilgrim center.

One-third of parishes in the archdiocese have completed the capital campaign, 34 are in its midst, and 32 will begin in January 2019.

Given the success of the campaign, Archbishop Coakley has announced a challenge goal of $80 million.

Father Rother was beatified Sept. 23, 2017 in Oklahoma City.

Fr. Rother was born March 27, 1935 in Okarche, Okla., and entered seminary soon after graduating from Holy Trinity High School.

Despite a strong calling, Rother would struggle in the seminary, failing several classes and even out of one seminary before graduating from Mount St. Mary's in Maryland. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 1963.

He served for five years in Oklahoma before joining the Oklahoma diocese's mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous persons where he would spend the next 13 years of his life.

The work ethic Fr. Rother learned on his family’s farm would serve him well in this new place. As a mission priest, he was called on not just to say Mass, but to fix the broken truck or work the fields. He built a farmers' co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station.

Over the years, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war inched closer to the once-peaceful village.
Disappearances, killings, and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Fr. Rother remained steadfast and supportive of his people.

In 1980-1981, the violence escalated to an almost unbearable point; Fr. Rother was constantly seeing
friends and parishioners abducted or killed.

In January 1981, in immediate danger and his name on a death list, Fr. Rother did return to Oklahoma for a few months. But as Easter approached, he wanted to spend Holy Week with his people in Guatemala.

The morning of July 28, 1981, three Ladinos, the non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of Guatemala since the 1960s, broke into Fr. Rother's rectory. They wished to disappear him, but he refused.

Not wanting to endanger the others at the parish mission, he struggled but did not call for help. Fifteen minutes and two gunshots later, Father Stanley was dead and the men fled the mission grounds.

Though his body was buried in Okarche, Fr. Rother's heart was enshrined in the church of Santiago Atitlan where he served.

Fr. Rother's cause for beatification was opened in 2007, and his martyrdom was recognized by the Vatican in December 2016, which cleared the way for his beatification.

His body was exhumed from the Okarche cemetery in May 2017, and re-interred at a chapel at Resurrection Cemetery in Oklahoma City.

Blessed Stanley Rother's feast is celebrated July 28 in the dioceses of Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Little Rock.

Catholic education group applauds Australian school funding plan

Sydney, Australia, Sep 21, 2018 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A $4.6 billion funding package for Catholic and independent schools in Australia has won the support of a national Catholic education group, which says the plan corrects key flaws from the previous funding model.

“Families can only have school choice if there is an affordable alternative to free, comprehensive government schools,” said Ray Collins, acting executive director of the National Catholic Education Commission.

“If the only option is a high-fee school, choice is restricted to those parents rich enough to afford high fees.”

The National Catholic Education Commission has given its full support to the new funding package, announced Thursday by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The plan includes $3.2 billion to fund non-government schools through a new model over the next decade. It also includes a $1.2 billion “choice and affordability fund” to support rural and drought-affected schools and other schools that require extra aid.

Morrison stressed the importance of school choice, while also reiterating a commitment to government schools, which will receive increased funding, from $7.3 billion this year to $13.7 billion in 2029, according to The Guardian.

The plan replaces a controversial 2107 funding model, which had been criticized for its geographically-based methodology of determining how much funding each non-government school required. This process, Collins said, “was flawed because it assumed all families from the same neighborhood were equally wealthy.” Many Catholic schools argued that their students often came from less-wealthy families in wealthier neighborhoods.

“Hundreds of primary schools would have been forced to double or triple their fees because of the previous model’s very narrow interpretation of ‘need’. This would have rendered those schools unaffordable to most Australian families, denying them the schooling choice that has been available in those areas for decades,” Collins said.

The new plan will calculate a school’s financial data based on parental income collected from tax information rather than geographical census data.

Collins said that while a few technical questions with the 2017 school funding model must still be resolved, the new plan goes a long way toward making Catholic schools a viable option for all Australians.

According to the National Catholic Education Commission, one in five Australian students attends a Catholic school, for a total of some 765,000 students in 1741 schools.

 

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist

Reading 1 Eph 4:1-7, 11-13

Brothers and sisters:
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace:
one Body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.

But grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ's gift.

And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the Body of Christ,
until we all attain to the unity of faith
and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,
to the extent of the full stature of Christ.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 19:2-3, 4-5

R. (5) Their message goes out through all the earth.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day,
and night to night imparts knowledge.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.
Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.

Alleluia See Te Deum

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
We praise you, O God,
we acclaim you as Lord;
the glorious company of Apostles praise you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 9:9-13

As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, "Follow me."
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
"Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
He heard this and said,
"Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners."
- - -
Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

It's our duty to fight racism, Pope tells international conference

Vatican City, Sep 20, 2018 / 05:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- All people have a responsibility to fight new forms of racism in the modern world, Pope Francis told more than 200 participants at a Rome-based conference this week.

“We are living in times in which feelings that many thought had passed are taking new life and spreading,” the pope said Sept. 20.

The international conference on “Xenophobia, Racism and Populist Nationalism in the Context of Global Migration” concluded Thursday. It had been promoted by the Vatican's Dicastery for Integral Human Development, the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

Addressing those present, Pope Francis warned that the modern world appears to be seeing an increase in “feelings of suspicion, fear, contempt and even hatred towards individuals or groups judged for their ethnic, national or religious identity.”

These individuals are “considered not sufficiently worthy of being fully part of society's life,” and such sentiments “all too often inspire real acts of intolerance, discrimination or exclusion,” he said.

Exclusion of foreigners can also become enshrined in political policy, as some lawmakers exploit fears and misgivings for political gain, he said.

Faced with these social changes, “we are all called, in our respective roles, to cultivate and promote respect for the intrinsic dignity of every human person,” the pope said.

He emphasized the role of religious leaders, educators, and media in this endeavor to promote a culture that respects human life and dignity.

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary general of the World Council of Churches, told Vatican News that the conference was intended to show a strong ecumenical commitment to addressing the global issues of racism and xenophobia, to hear from voices across the globe about the issue, and to create common text that can be used as the basis of further efforts.

He stressed the importance of supporting politicians who are standing up for the human rights of migrants, and emphasized the role of religious leaders in upholding human dignity in public discussions surrounding migration.

“There is no easy political answer to all of this: it is a very complex political situation, but we believe that the churches, with our values but also with our networks, our communities, as human beings and as people of faith, can contribute a lot,” he said.

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 / 05:08 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying he regrets having failed to report the abuse of a minor, WBAY reported Thursday.

“I failed to report to local authorities an incident of abuse of a minor by a priest in 1979 and, as a result, this priest was able to abuse again several years later,” Bishop Morneau wrote in a letter to Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, which WBAY says was published in The Compass, the Green Bay diocesan paper.

“I intend to spend my time in prayer for all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and I will do corporal works of mercy in reparation for what I failed to do,” Bishop Morneau wrote.

Bishop Morneau, 80, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay in 1966, and appointed auxiliary bishop of the diocese in 1978. He was consecrated a bishop Feb. 22, 1979. He remained auxiliary bishop until 2013, when he reached the age of 75.

WBAY reports that Bishop Morneau says he mishandled the case of former priest David Boyea, who was convicted of child sexual assaul in 1985.

“Looking back, I should have handled this situation differently than I did at the time. At the time, I was asked by the family of the victim to arrange an apology from the offending priest, which I did. I felt at the time I had done what was asked of me by helping the parties to reconcile,” the bishop wrote.

“The measures taken were ultimately insufficient to protect others from abuse from this same priest. I very much regret and apologize for this, especially to those victimized following my mistake in this regard.”

Bishop Ricken wrote in The Compass, according to WBAY, that “Bishop Morneau is a good and faithful man who did what he felt was right at the time, realizing now that he could have and should have done more to protect the innocent.”

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the Church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis, he has grown “impatient” while awaiting a decision from the pope on a request made by U.S. bishops more than one month ago.

Speaking at a press conference Sept. 21, Cardinal Timothy Dolan called for a formal investigation- an apostolic visitation- of the Church in the United States in response to allegations that have surfaced in recent months regarding decades of sexual immorality on the part of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

“Part of my people saying ‘we're beginning to lose trust in bishops’ is their legitimate question as to how could a man continue to rise in the Church with a background like that?’ And that’s a darn good question, that I share. We have got to get to the bottom of that.”

“How [that happens] is an ongoing question. I think particularly an apostolic visitation from the Holy See that included lay professionals would be a particularly effective way to do that. We’ve proposed that to the Holy See and we wait.”

An apostolic visitation was formally proposed to the Vatican in an Aug. 16 statement from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. It has since been reiterated by several U.S. bishops.

While DiNardo and other leaders of the bishops’ conference met with Pope Francis Sept. 13, there has not yet been any announcement from the Vatican regarding an apostolic visitation.

Within the Church, only the Vatican has the authority to order an investigation into the conduct of those bishops who stand accused of covering up the sexual coercion and assault McCarrick is alleged to have committed.

Dolan said that if an apostolic visitation “doesn’t happen, there has to be an equally effective way” to investigate the circumstances surrounding the ecclesiastical career of Archbishop McCarrick, though he did not offer particular suggestions.

Asked by a reporter why approval for an apostolic visitation had not been forthcoming, Dolan answered: “I tend to get as impatient as you obviously are, so I don’t know the answer to that.”

The cardinal was also asked if the pope is doing enough to address concerns about sexual abuse and misconduct in the Church in the United States.

“So far,” Dolan said in response.

“I mean, you won’t be surprised that I love him and trust him very much and know that he’s on our side. So I think...I mean he has a beautiful posture of reflection, of ‘let’s not act impetuously,’ you know- he’s spoken with prophetic fire in condemning this.

“I trust that he’s going to come through,” Dolan said. “But I don’t mind admitting that I get a little impatient too.”

 

Irish doctors question readiness to introduce legal abortion

Dublin, Ireland, Sep 20, 2018 / 04:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Most physicians in the Republic of Ireland are unwilling to perform abortions despite the repeal of an amendment which legally protected the unborn, and many are also concerned about whether there are adequate preparations for the procedure.

“There are concerns about capacity and resourcing issues such as staffing, facilities, training,” Dr. Mary Favier, vice president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, told the Oireachtas Health Committee Sept. 18, the same day the Irish president signed a bill formally repealing the Eighth Amendment.

“They are concerned about the potential lack of appropriate specialist support, the possibility of medical complications for their patients, what will be the public reaction to those who don't provide and those who do,” the Irish News reported Favier stating.

“They have a fear of litigation, they wish to see an acknowledgement of conscientious objection and how to accommodate this in the clinical pathway but also an acknowledgement of conscientious commitment and how to support this.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadker has said that Catholic hospitals will not be permitted to opt out of performing abortions, though individual medical professionals may.

The removal of the Eighth Amendment follows the decisive result of the national referendum held in May. Only one county, Donegal, voted to keep the amendment.

While it has not yet been determined under what circumstances abortion will become legal, the government is proposing that it be allowed throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Legislation to this effect will be introduced by the government next month.

It is unknown when Ireland’s first abortion facility will open, but Varadkar said this will likely be by 2019.

Favier noted to the health committee that “there are actually very few clinicians who are trained to deliver this care pathway unless they have received training outside of the jurisdiction,” and Dr Peter Boylan, chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said that introducing abortion by 2019 would be “challenging”.

Boylan noted there is not enough access to ultrasound, and that permitting abortion “without adequate scanning facilities is fraught with risk.”

Experts respond to new policies for handling allegations against bishops

Washington D.C., Sep 20, 2018 / 03:45 pm (CNA).- Following the announcement of new policies for bishops by the USCCB, experts in the fields of law and child protection have been considering their potential effectiveness. The measures were formulated by the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Administrative Committee in response to the recent scandal involving Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

In a statement released Sept. 19, the bishops’ conference said that in addition to backing a full inquiry into the McCarrick scandal, they would establish a third-party mechanism for reporting allegations of misconduct against bishops.

A Code of Conduct for bishops, and a clear policy for handling “restricted” bishops who had resigned or been removed from office following accusations would also be produced.

Ed Mechmann, a civil lawyer and head of public policy and director of the Safe Environment Office for the Archdiocese of New York, welcomed the plans.

“The USCCB’s announcement is a good first step,” he told CNA. While hailing the measures as progress, Mechmann said that the Church needed to get better at ongoing reform.

“Adapting to changed circumstances is a hard thing. Some organizations are more nimble than others and the U.S. bishops are not by nature very nimble. I think we need to see, and will see, a better process of incremental change emerge.” 

Mechmann specifically singled out the proposed independent reporting system as an encouraging reform.

“The third-party reporting mechanism is a great idea. All Catholics, especially victims, need to be able to have faith that when they report something, action will be taken.”

Much of the criticism from the current scandal has focused on what actions bishops took - or did not take - in response to allegations made against one of their peers. Addressing what has been seen as an accountability gap for bishops has been a crucial priority for Church authorities.

While the Essential Norms adopted by the U.S. bishops’ conference in 2002 have contributed to a sharp downturn in the number of cases of abuse involving priests, those norms did not extend to bishops. Only the Holy See, as an exercise of papal authority, can impose disciplinary measures on bishops, and this has hampered efforts by the American hierarchy to self-police.

Mechmann suggested that the application of current standards and procedures to bishops as well as priests should be a priority.

“We do not know how many complaints against bishops, as bishops, are likely to be received. I would suggest that if the complaint concerns actions committed while he was a priest - as was the case with some of the McCarrick allegations - there shouldn’t be anything stopping the current Essential Norms and the Dallas Charter being applied, since both of those concern priestly ministry.”

But Mechmann acknowledged that extending the reach of existing norms would require Roman approval.

“In a sense all bishops are priests too, and ideally the norms and charter would already be applied to bishops, though this seems to need the approval of Rome. I think American Catholics as a group tend to be impatient with technicalities like this, they want to see progress and the USCCB’s plan is a solid beginning.”

Fr. Giovanni Capucci, a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver who teaches canon law at St. John Vianney Seminary, told CNA that the difficulty lay in the U.S. bishops’ conference having to deal with issues it was never intended to handle.

“The challenge facing the USCCB, or any bishops conference, is that they were not created to be legislative bodies. The areas in which they can make binding rules for all the bishops of a country is very narrowly limited and prescribed explicitly by the Holy See,” Capucci told CNA.

“Trying to arrive at new norms or processes, even in response to grave scandals, is simply not what they were created to do.”

He explained that while many Catholics would like to see swift, decisive action from the American bishops, as an institution, the USCCB is geared more towards being a communal forum than a deliberative body.

“From that perspective, the proposals are a commendable effort and a necessary one. But they probably also reflect the farthest they can go within the limits of their authority,” Capucci said.

Both Capucci and Mechmann agreed that further reforms were likely, noting that the statement of the Administrative Committee underscored that the announced measures were only a first step in a continuing process.

Capucci told CNA that “it is up to the Holy See to determine if the USCCB will be given more authority to act, and they seem to have been clear that they consider this a first step. Time will tell what else may be achieved.”

Ed Mechmann pointed out that, in the meantime, more could be done by U.S. dioceses themselves.

“Currently, the charter and norms are working, but the outcomes and applications are not uniform across all dioceses. Even the terms ‘sexual misconduct’ or ‘abuse’ don’t necessarily mean the same thing in all dioceses,” he said.

“What’s misconduct in New York needs to be misconduct across the river in Newark. I think working on a better process of incremental and ongoing reform will yield better results, near and long term, than becoming locked into a cycle of responding to major crises.”

Some Catholics, including members of the pope’s own Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, have advanced the idea of regional or national tribunals to handle sexual abuse  cases. The impetus for this is the known backlog of cases facing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has not - as yet - been given the resources and manpower required to process its caseload effectively.

More than that, Mechmann said, giving local authorities the power to try local abuse cases would demonstrate accountability.

“We want to get to a place where American problems are being handled locally, and the bishops here need to ask for and receive the authority to deal with our own issues,” Mechmann said.

Mechmann also told CNA that “people don’t want to hear that our issues are being palmed off on a handful of hard-working but clearly over-stretched priests in Rome. That looks like shifting responsibility for our own messes, and it extends the time it takes to deal with these matters. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Fr. Capucci sounded a note of caution about the concept of regional or national tribunal, saying that the idea is “not entirely novel, and it’s not clear if this is necessarily the best way forward. The American experience of special norms for marriage tribunals, for example, was not a universally positive experience,” he told CNA.

“The important thing is that cases of abuse are dealt with, dealt with swiftly, and handled by qualified staff who can deliver an outcome people can have faith in - always keeping the needs of victims at the front of their work” Fr. Capucci said.

The extent to which individual bishops welcome and adopt the reforms willingly could prove crucial to their effectiveness. In response to the new policies, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles praised them as an effective point of departure for an ongoing process of reform.

“It is only the beginning of what needs to be done. But I believe it is a good, solid beginning,” he said in a statement released Sept. 20.

“This is a time for prayer and penance and purification for those of us who are bishops and priests. And as we work for the renewal and reform of the Church, we are asking humbly for your assistance and expertise — as mothers and fathers, and as faithful Catholics in all walks of life.”