Independent firm to oversee allegations against bishops

In the years since 2002 when the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was implemented in our diocese and throughout the United States, we have made progress in our efforts to respond to the victims of abuse. There is more that can be done, and we know that we need to stay vigilant and work continuously to improve our efforts. One such improvement will be implemented in the United States this month. It will specifically address the need for accountability for the bishops of our country.

Pope Francis met in February 2019 with the heads of the bishop’s conferences throughout the world to discuss the abuse crisis and especially the need to create a way to hold bishops accountable for alleged abuse and/or intentional interference in investigations into alleged abuse by others under their authority.

Following that meeting the Holy Father released his apostolic letter, Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the Light of the World”), commonly referred to as Vos estis. With the document, the Pope called all conferences of bishops through the world to develop third-party reporting systems specifically for allegations of abuse involving a bishop or of a bishop intentionally interfering in a civil or church investigation into an allegation of sexual abuse. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has established the Catholic Bishops Abuse Reporting Service or CBAR. It is important to understand several things about CBAR.

The system, although set up by the bishops of the United States, is not monitored by them. An independent firm called Convercent Inc. has been contracted to create and oversee the reporting process. 

Reports made through this service will be sent promptly to appropriate church personnel and, as warranted, civil authorities for investigation purposes. The reports will otherwise remain confidential. Callers are not required to provide a name or contact information, although they may choose to do so to facilitate the process. Once a report is submitted, the caller will be given an access number which will allow them to receive updates on the progress of the case they have shared.

This reporting system may be used to report the actions or inactions of living U.S. Catholic bishops.  Allegations of abuse involving a bishop who has died or other church personnel should be reported through the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator, Barbara Scherr, who can be contacted by calling the VAC cell phone 605-209-3418. Victims of sexual abuse (or any other crime) should contact local law enforcement. 

It is also important to understand that the only reports that can be filed through CBAR are those that involve sexual abuse of children or vulnerable adults or the intentional interference in a civil or church investigation into an allegation of sexual abuse. Other complaints about the bishop — such as parish assignments, church closings, diocesan administration or homily contents — should be addressed directly to your bishop (or diocesan administrator) and not through CBAR. It is important to hear this and understand it. The bishops of our country are focused on and concerned about abuse victims. Our bishops want abuse victims to be heard and to receive the church’s offering of justice, mercy and healing. If a variety of other complaints come in, it will prevent the bishops from focusing on those who have been victims of abuse.

Once a report is submitted to CBAR, it will be sent to the metropolitan in the province where the accused bishop, active or retired, is living. The Catholic Church divides the world into dioceses. Dioceses are then grouped into provinces for governance purposes. Each province has an archbishop who is also called a Metropolitan. Our province includes the dioceses in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.  Our Metropolitan is Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. (If the report concerns the archbishop himself, the report will be sent to the bishop in the province who has the most seniority by virtue of ordination.)

Upon receiving a report, the Metropolitan will determine if the case falls within the Vos esti provisions. If not, it will be referred to the proper authorities within the church. If it does meet the provision of Vos esti, the Metropolitan and qualified staff will conduct an initial assessment. If an investigation is warranted, the Metropolitan will send an assessment to the appropriate authority within the Holy See. Within 30 days, the Holy See will determine if a formal investigation is warranted.  If so, it will authorize a bishop to oversee the investigation. If an investigation is ordered, it will be undertaken by qualified experts, including lay persons. Normally, the investigation must be completed within 90 days of receiving the order from the Holy See.  The conclusions of the investigation will be sent to the Holy See, since it is the Holy Father who disciplines bishops. Once the Holy See receives the conclusions of an investigation, the Holy See will initiate the appropriate process that will lead to a final judgement.

CBAR is a church system. As with all cases of reported abuse, those who receive the reports from CBAR are required to report to and cooperate with civil authorities.

Allegations against U.S. bishops may be reported through CBAR (800-276-1562). This information will also be available on the diocesan web site, from the victim assistance coordinator (605-209-3418)) or the diocese offices (605-343-3541).