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In interview, Archbishop Gregory reflects on recent actions taken by U.S. bishops to address the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church

Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, right, attends Mass at the spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore June 11, 2019. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

In a June 21 interview with the Catholic Standard newspaper, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory offered insights on the actions taken by the U.S. bishops at their June 11-13 meeting in Baltimore to address the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. In 2002, the nation’s bishops at their meeting in Dallas adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” when then-Bishop Gregory of Belleville, Illinois, was serving at the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The following is the text of Archbishop Gregory’s interview with Mark Zimmermann, the Catholic Standard’s editor.

What is your reaction to the actions taken by the bishops at their recent meeting to address the abuse crisis?

Archbishop Gregory: “I am very pleased with what the body of bishops did, and did with such an overwhelming majority vote on all of the different initiatives. I think what it does, in so many ways, it completes the Dallas charter, including the bishops, which was a lacuna [missing element] in the charter, and is now being handled, I think, appropriately. Unfortunately, it had to happen under the duress of scandalous revelations from last year, but it was done nonetheless, and the body of bishops endorsed it overwhelmingly.”

What do you see as the most significant actions they took?

Archbishop Gregory: “I think all of the actions taken together, certainly the call-in number where people from across the country can call in an alleged act of misbehavior is certainly one of the things that it does.

“But also, it encourages bishops to establish a list of qualified professional laity to be at the service of the inquiry and the evaluation of the allegations, and it guarantees that these matters will be handled openly and transparently.

“And then the final component is the bishops holding ourselves to standards of behavior we might have presumed we were already following, and I believe the vast majority of bishops are following, but the behavior of a number of bishops made it necessary for us to take a more inclusive and bold promise of integrity, and it also addresses the handling of bishops who are retired or have been removed, and how they can be limited in their activities as a bishop or as participants in ecclesial life.”

How do these actions address concerns raised by the Catholic laity this past year who called for more accountability and transparency on the part of bishops, and more lay involvement in oversight?

Archbishop Gregory: “It involves a vehicle and a procedure for receiving and reviewing allegations of inappropriate behavior on the part of bishops involving the abuse of minors or sexual harassment. It provides a way of making sure that those allegations are not summarily dismissed.”

How do these actions build on the Dallas charter?

Archbishop Gregory: “The Dallas charter and the protocols that are part of the charter only involved priests and deacons and church ministers, exempting the bishops. Now the bishops must be evaluated by those same norms so they are part of the Church’s response to this horrendous crime of the sexual abuse of young people and vulnerable adults, as well as the growing awareness of sexual harassment, which is something that we have become much more aware of, and found ways to address it in these directives.”

What impact do you hope these measures have on the Church in the United States?

Archbishop Gregory: “Well, first of all, I hope they are a further vehicle for the protection of young people. But from a larger view, I hope they demonstrate that we bishops are both repentant for our failure to take action where action was desperately needed, and we have established vehicles to handle such claims in the future.

“Finally, throughout the whole conversation including all of the three components that we’ve discussed, the bedrock issue should be the respect and treatment of those victims and survivors who may have been disbelieved, ignored and certainly insulted when they came forward with their claims in the past.

“It’s a moment when our lay people are given the respect that is overdue but is clearly their right.”

What about the Archdiocese of Washington, what impact will the measures have here?

Archbishop Gregory: “One of the things I will be doing is trying to come up with a list of professional lay people and experts. I’m in dialogue with the province of Baltimore and the Military Archdiocese to see if we can collaborate in establishing such a list of lay professionals that we can use jointly.”

On an unrelated subject, how has your first month as archbishop of Washington been?

Archbishop Gregory: “Today is one month (since my installation). I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the goodness of our people, by the warmth of their welcome, by their clear and fervent desire to move forward in faith, all the while making sure that I’m fully aware of the pain, the sorrow, the sadness, and the scandal that they have endured.”