Bishop Accountability in the News — by Brian Mark Hennessy

Bishop Accountability in the News

  1. Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron of Guam accused of sexual abuse.

Very recently, the Vatican announced that the pope had signed off on new measures to remove bishops who fail to respond to abuse allegations. A previous article on these pages reported the event in detail. Pope Francis told the Catholic newspaper La Croix.As a result of committing child sexual abuse, a priest, whose vocation is to lead a child to God, destroys him. He disseminates evil, resentment and distress.” It appears that Pope Francis meant what he said – for following mounting accusations of sexual abuse against Archbishop Apuron of Guam, the Vatican has already announced that Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron, who has led the Agana archdiocese for 30 years, must yield his authority – and a Vatican official has been named to oversee the Catholic Church on the Pacific island territory while charges of sexual abuse against children in the 1970s are investigated.

2. Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain is Challenged by his own Review Board

An open letter in the form of an online petition has challenged Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain to address what it charges is the archdiocese’s “incomplete response” to the “clergy abuse crisis.” claims “more is needed if we are to truly protect our youth, heal the wounds caused by this horrific evil, and address the continued alienation of Catholics from their Church.” The letter specifically asks:

  • For the public release of “all files, memoranda, settlements and communications related to credible claims of abuse by all clergy and religious who have ministered in this archdiocese or will do so in the future”;
  • For the empowerment of “a reconstituted Review Board” that would have “broad, independent access to all Church files concerning clergy abuse of minors,” and the “authority to investigate and make recommendations as to policy and discipline for all matters relating to such abuse in the Archdiocese — past, present and future”;
  • That the majority of a new Review Board be “selected by the laity and all of its recommendations made public unless the Archbishop explains in writing to the Catholic community the reasons for not doing so.”
  1. Canon Law Professors Criticises the Vatican for Backing Away from Appointing a Tribunal to Judge Bishops’ Failures


Pope Francis’ move to grant several Vatican offices authority to initiate removal of Catholic bishops negligent in their response to clergy sexual abuse has drawn mixed reviews from canon lawyers and survivors’ advocates, who say the pontiff’s action may not go far enough in stemming the abuse crisis. Some experts are expressing confusion over why the pontiff chose not to go forward with a proposal from his Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors for a new tribunal tasked specifically with judging bishops in their handling of sexual abuse and instead directed four existing Vatican congregations to take on the work.


In one example, a canon lawyer at the Catholic University of America, Kurt Martens, tweeted that the pope had promised the creation of that new tribunal more than a year ago. With Saturday’s publication of the motu proprio Come una madre amorevole (“Like a loving mother”), that tribunal “seems to get first class funeral,” he said. Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer in Boston who has been representing clergy sexual abuse victims for decades and was portrayed by Stanley Tucci in the recent film Spotlight, was likewise skeptical. The new law, he said, “is fundamentally flawed because the Catholic Church will once again be investigating itself with regard to clergy sexual abuse. History has shown us that the Catholic Church is incapable of objectively investigating itself in clergy sexual abuse cases,” said Garabedian. “The fox is once again guarding the hen house and children are at risk.”


The U.S. based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has issued two separate statements saying they are “highly skeptical” of the new measure. In a statement Sunday they said that while the original plan was to have one specific agency handle bishops who are negligent in sexual abuse matters, “now, instead, it’s supposedly going to be existing agencies … none of which has ever taken real action, or even showed interest in complicit bishops. It’s just like the U.S. bishops’ ‘Dallas Charter,'” said the group, referring to the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” that the U.S. bishops signed in 2002 following intense reporting on the sexual abuse crisis in the Boston archdiocese. “When bishops talked about it, they used clear and tough language,” said SNAP. “But when they wrote it, they got all legalistic and watered it down considerably. Similarly, when Francis talked about holding complicit bishops responsible, he used clear and tough language,” they continued. “But when he finally wrote something, he backed off his own strong words considerably.”


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