EDITORIAL: Church needs independent lay panel to probe latest allegations

SHARE EDITORIAL: Church needs independent lay panel to probe latest allegations

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke delivering a speech to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests annual conference at McCormick Place in 2014 | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Just last week, we argued that the stakes are too high for the credibility of the Catholic Church to ignore accusations of misconduct or poor judgment made against the pope and various bishops by a high-ranking church diplomat.

We said there should be an independent investigation.


Now Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke has proposed an excellent way to do just that.

Burke’s proposal — to reappoint a lay board created 15 years ago by the U.S. Conference of Bishops to investigate sex abuses by priests and authorize it now to investigate top U.S. church leaders — makes sense. Burke sat on the original lay board, and she and her colleagues are willing to be called back into service and report their findings directly to Pope Francis.

The church has been rocked in recent weeks by two new stories:

First, in Pennsylvania, a grand jury reported that bishops and other church leaders covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years. Second, a former Vatican diplomat alleged last month in an 11-page letter that a prominent American cardinal was restored to public ministry even though Pope Francis had been warned he was a sexual abuser. The cardinal has since resigned.

Here in Chicago, the archdiocese has done much to be transparent about its past transgressions and to ensure priests who victimized others were removed from the ministry. We also know, of course, that sexual abuse by those in positions of trust and authority is by no means limited to the church. Most recently, it has exploded into a major scandal in the Chicago Public Schools.

But to truly put this issue in the past, the Catholic Church must uncover and address any actions by leaders who ignored or covered up abuses. In its original incarnation, the lay board was limited to investigating actions by priests. Expanding its mandate to investigate bishops and cardinals would be a wise step.

The letter by the former Vatican diplomat, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, appears questionable: News organizations have found no evidence that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, accused of sexually abusing seminarians, lived under ecclesiastic restrictions after sanctions were imposed, as Vigano claimed. Talking to an NBC5 reporter, Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich attributed Vigano’s letter to “a small group of insurgents who have not liked Pope Francis from the very beginning.”

If that’s all there is to it, an independent investigation would figure that out, too.

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