After eight years as chairman of the National Review Board, a lay committee that advises the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on addressing clergy sex abuse, Francesco C. Cesareo says the Catholic Church in the United States has made “some progress, but a mixed progress.”
“There’s still some work to be done going forward in order to tighten up the charter and the processes that are part of it,” Cesareo said in reference to the U.S. bishops’ 2002 Dallas Charter that instituted new norms to investigate clergy sex abuse cases.During his two consecutive four-year terms as chairman of the National Review Board, which ended in June, Cesareo often pushed to amend the charter, to make it less vague and more responsive to new information. He advocated for the laity to have a greater role in keeping clergy accountable and lobbied for a more independent annual auditing system to monitor how dioceses and Church institutions are complying with the charter.In a recent interview with Our Sunday Visitor, Cesareo, who is the president of Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, reflected on his tenure as the NRB chairman, the progress that has been made in responding to the sex abuse scandals, the challenges that remain and what he believes bishops need to do to rebuild trust in the Church.
Francesco C. Cesareo:
I think that there’s been progress in terms of really understanding that this issue of clerical sexual abuse has to be at the forefront of the work of the bishops, that they cannot assume it is a historical event that is done with and occurred in the past.I think a lot of the focus has been on dealing with the implementation of various aspects of the charter in a more substantive way — for example, the establishment of diocesan review boards and safe environment programs and making sure those are operational in dioceses across the country.Having said that, the charter still remains a document that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. What the National Review Board really tried to do during my eight years was to tighten up the charter, make it less gray, less ambiguous. I don’t think we were able to succeed as much as we would have liked to have succeeded in that area.
While we’ve seen more dioceses begin to audit their parishes, which is very important, the fact that we were not able to get that as a requirement in the charter was disappointing. That’s something the NRB has continuously pushed forward each year. Until bishops know what’s going on at the parish level, it’s very hard for them to know for certain whether a culture of safety has actually been integrated into the life of their dioceses.
We also saw some changes to the audit instrument that improved it, but not to the extent that the National Review Board was looking for. The National Review Board has really been pushing for a much more substantive audit instrument and a more independent audit process. That’s an area that still needs to be worked on by the National Review Board moving forward.
Our Sunday Visitor: Where is the Church now in terms of holding bishops accountable?
Cesareo: Up until the McCarrick situation, bishops were not really held accountable. It was that situation that brought the issue to the forefront. While there’s been progress with Vos Estis, what the National Review Board was looking for was a greater role for the laity in the process of holding bishops accountable. We were not supportive of the metropolitan model that was actually adopted, because we felt that model has the potential of having too many cracks or loopholes that would not be sufficient in addressing bishops’ accountability.