As more allegations emerge in the US, bishops clash over the shape of a future inquiry

Cardinal Donald Wuerl succeeded Theodore McCarrick as the Archbishop of Washington in 2006. Now that multiple allegations have been made of his predecessor’s “misconduct” with seminarians and young priests, Cardinal Wuerl is expected to lead efforts to prevent further abuse. Last week, in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, he mooted the idea of a “panel, a board, of bishops … where we would take it upon ourselves” to investigate rumours of clerical abuse”.

It wasn’t clear how the panel would work, or whether Cardinal Wuerl (pictured above right with Archbishop McCarrick) envisaged a major role for the laity. But the immediate response was heavily critical.

Even bishops expressed strong reservations about the proposed panel. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany said: “While I am heartened by my brother bishops proposing ways for our Church to take action in light of recent revelation, I think we have reached a point where bishops alone investigating bishops is not the answer.”

He called instead on the “lay faithful” to “help us make lasting reforms that will restore a level of trust that has been shattered yet again”.

Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles who is also head of the Word on Fire media group, echoed Bishop Sharfenberger’s reservations. “I would suggest (as a lowly back-bencher auxiliary) that the bishops of the United States – all of us – petition the Holy Father to form a team, made up mostly of faithful lay Catholics skilled in forensic investigation, and to empower them to have access to all of the relevant documentation and financial records,” he wrote.

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