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Bishop Burbidge reflects on bishops meeting

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Catholic bishops from across the country assembled in Baltimore Nov. 12-15 to discuss one thing: how to respond to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. A surprising request from the Holy See postponed potential reforms until after an international gathering on the topic at the Vatican in February with the heads of episcopal conferences, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo. 

Though Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said the delay was disappointing, he feels the bishops are united in tackling the issue. “While there was initial disappointment, I can assure you that we did progress forward in our discussions,” he said.

“Our charter in 2002 did not include bishops. We understand that it needs to, that when there’s an accusation of mishandling of a case or misconduct of a bishop, there should be that same accountability, reviewed by an outside source. We were going to talk about a special lay commission of independent law enforcement (personnel) and investigators, social service experts, to pursue such allegations,” Bishop Burbidge said. “From everything that I heard, we are in favor of that.”

While unable to vote on possible solutions, the bishops did consider a resolution that would have encouraged Pope Francis to release documents relating to the investigation of the alleged misconduct of Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick

It was noted that the bishops had been notified in October that an official investigation into Archbishop McCarrick already had begun at the Vatican. The measure failed, 137 no votes to 83 yes.

“It did not get passed, not because we don’t believe this is a very serious situation and it needs to be resolved, but because the proposal was merely encouraging the Holy See to do what they have promised to do and are doing. I didn't feel a strong need to give support to that,” said Bishop Burbidge. “There are many questions that need to be answered. And until they are, there is a great deal of unsettlement. It's something that Cardinal DiNardo will be bringing to his meeting in February.”

Two victims of sexual abuse, the National Review Board and the U.S. bishops’ National Advisory Council also addressed the bishops. The council chairman is Father David A. Whitestone, pastor of St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax. 

“They were very strong in challenging the bishops to greater transparency and accountability,” said Bishop Burbidge. “I was proud that the Diocese of Arlington was represented in such a way. (The National Advisory Council) is very helpful at all of the meetings, especially this one.”

Though the bishops were unable to take action as a body, many noted that each can take action in their own diocese. Bishop Burbidge reminded the faithful they are always free to contact civil authorities and law enforcement. In cases involving the leadership of the diocese itself, complaints could be made to Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, the metropolitan of the Diocese of Arlington’s ecclesiastical province. 

In the future, Bishop Burbidge hopes a lay commission is established to investigate possible misconduct of bishops. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018