MEETING "THE PROTECTION OF MINORS IN THE CHURCH"
[Vatican’s New Synod Hall, 21-24 February 2019]
New Synod Hall
Friday, 22 February 2019
Synodality: Jointly Responsible
by Cardinal Blase Joseph Cupich,
Archbishop of Chicago
Introduction: From Collegiality to Synodality
From what we just heard from Cardinal Gracias, we are to understand our
gathering in these days as an exercise in collegiality. We are here, as the
universal episcopate in affective and substantive union with the successor of
Peter, to discern through spirited dialogue where our ministry as successors of
the apostles calls us to confront effectively the scandal of clergy sexual abuse
that has wounded so many little ones.
While we share a unique responsibility in this regard as the college of bishops,
it is also imperative that we consider the challenge we face in the light of
synodality, especially as we explore with the entire Church the structural,
legal and institutional aspects of accountability. For synodality represents
the participation of all the baptized at every level - in parishes, dioceses,
national and regional ecclesial bodies - in a discernment and reform that
penetrates throughout the Church. It is precisely such a penetrating
discernment, so vital to the Church in this moment, that will give rise to the
elements of truth, penitence and renewal of cultures that are essential to
fulfilling the mandate of protecting the young within the Church, and in turn
within the larger society. A process that merely changes policies, even if it
is the fruit of the finest acts of collegiality, is not enough. It is the
conversion of men and women throughout the entire Church — parents and priests,
catechists and religious, parish leaders and bishops — and the conversion of
ecclesial cultures on every continent that we must seek. Only a synodal vision,
rooted in discernment, conversion and reform at every level can bring to the
Church the comprehensive action in the defense of the most vulnerable in our
midst to which God’s grace is calling us.
A Sacred Bond
With that in mind, I want to begin with a story. Sixty years ago, this past
December, a fire raged through Our Lady of the Angels Catholic elementary school
in Chicago, taking the lives of 92 children and three religious sisters. To
mark that sad anniversary, I presided at a Memorial Mass, attended by many of
the former students who survived the fire and family members of those who had
died. One of the persons I greeted before the Mass was a ninety-five-year old
mother of one of the children who died in the fire. She was an Italian
immigrant, who told me in her native language, but also by the pitiful look in
her tearful eyes, that the sting of her loss was still as sharp as the day her
nine-year old daughter perished. She showed me the holy card with her
daughter’s picture. She clutched it in her hand as something very precious.
She had kept this santino for six decades since the day of her little
This moving story of a grieving mother, a modern-day Pietà, who lost her
child many years ago puts us in touch on a profoundly human level with the
sacred bond a parent has with a child. I believe that this sacred space of
family life must be the point of reference and where we find our motivation as
we commit ourselves in these days to build a culture of accountability with
proper structures to radically alter our approach to child safeguarding. Sadly,
many of our people, not just those abused or parents of the abused, but the
faithful at large are wondering if we the leaders of the Church fully understand
this sacred bound, this reality, particularly when they see little care given to
abused children, or even worse, when it is covered up to protect the abuser or
the institution. They are asking themselves, “If church leaders could act with
so little care in giving pastoral attention in such obvious cases of a child
being sexually molested, does that not reveal how detached they are from us as
parents who treasure our children as the light of our lives? Can we really
expect our leaders to care about us and our children in the ordinary
circumstances of life, if they responded so callously in cases that would alarm
any reasonable person?” This is the source of the growing mistrust in our
leadership, not to mention the outrage of our people.
My point is simple. None of the structural elements we enact as a synodal
Church, important as they are, can guide us forward faithfully in Christ unless
we anchor all our deliberations in the piercing pain of those who have been
abused and of the families who have suffered with them. The Church must become
like the grieving mother, whom I encountered in Chicago; the Church must truly
be Pietà, broken in suffering, consoling in enveloping love, constant in
pointing to the divine tenderness of God amidst the pangs of desolation in those
who have been crushed by clergy abuse.
Four Synodal Principles to Focus Structural Legal and Institutional Reform
For a Church seeking to be a loving mother in the face of clergy sexual
abuse,four orientations, rooted in synodality, must shape every structural,
legal and institutional reform designed to meet the enormous challenge which the
reality of sexual abuse by clergy represents at this moment.
One: Radical Listening
The first orientation is a perpetual stance of radical listening to comprehend
the deadening experience of those who have been sexually abused by clergy. This
is how we are to understand the Holy Father’s request that we prepare for this
meeting by entering personally into the experiences of survivors by visiting
with them. The Church as a loving mother must continually open herself to the
heartbreaking reality of children whose wounds will never heal. Such a stance
of listening calls us to cast aside the institutional distance and relational
blinders that insulate us from coming face to face with the raw destruction of
the lives of children and vulnerable people that clergy sexual abuse brings.
Our listening cannot be passive, waiting for those who have been abused to find
a way to us. Rather, our listening must be active, searching out those who have
been wounded, and seeking to minister to them. Our listening must be willing to
accept challenge, and confrontation and yes, even condemnation for the Church’s
past and present failures to keep safe the most precious of the Lord’s flock.
Our listening must be vigilant, understanding that only by inquiry and
perseverance and action in the face of signs of sexual abuse can we fulfill
God’s mandate. Finally, our listening must bring with it the willingness to
confront the past grave and callous errors of some bishops and religious
superiors in addressing cases of clergy sexual abuse, and the discernment to
understand how to establish just accountability for these massive failures.
Two: Lay Witness
The second foundation which must orient every structural reform to address
clergy sexual abuse in a synodal Church is the affirmation that every member of
the Church has an essential role in helping the Church to eliminate the horrific
reality of clergy sexual abuse. In large part it is the witness of the laity,
especially mothers and fathers with great love for the Church, who have pointed
out movingly and forcefully how gravely incompatible the commission, cover-up
and toleration of clergy sexual abuse is with the very meaning and essence of
our Church. This witness of faith and justice by the laity represents not a
confrontational challenge to the Church, but an ongoing and grace-filled
testimony of faith and action that is essential for the pilgrim people of God to
fulfill its salvific mission at this moment in history. Mothers and fathers
have called us to account, for they simply cannot comprehend how we as bishops
and religious have oftenbeen blinded to the scope and damage of sexual abuse of
minors. They are witnessing to dual realities that must be pursued in our
church today: an unceasing effort to eradicate clergy sexual abuse in the
church, anda rejection of the clerical culture which so often bred that abuse.
True synodality in the Church calls us to see this broad lay witness as
empowering and accelerating the mission for which we have come together from
every nation in pursuit of the safety of God’s children. We must unswervingly
incorporate broad lay participation into every effort to identify and construct
structures of accountability for the prevention of clergy sexual abuse. For the
history of the past decades demonstrates that the unique and graced perspective
of lay men and women, mothers and fathers,informs our Church in so profound a
manner on this tragedy that any pathway forward which excludes or diminishes it
will inevitably deform the Church and dishonor our God.
The third orientation for our work of reform and renewal was noted by Cardinal
Gracias this morning — the stance of sustained collegiality that is necessary
for genuine accountability regarding clergy sexual abuse. I know that
at times the issue of sexual abuse can leave each of us feeling isolated or
defensive in understanding how we should move forward. It is precisely for this
reason that our efforts toward structural and legal reform in the Church must be
rooted in a profoundly collegial vision. We are gathered here in this historic
moment because the Holy Father has powerfully crystallized the drive for reform
in a way that positions the Church to meet its responsibilities in protecting
the young and to exercise its role as Pietà in a world which knows all
too tragically the reality of sexual abuse.
An approach that is synodal and collegial is marked by the reciprocal exchange
of mutual knowledge, in the Roman Curia, episcopal conferences and
metropolitans, and among each of them for the purpose of discernment. Rather
than operating in isolation, we need to communicate with one another in a spirit
of trust, recognizing all the while that we are being faithful to the wishes of
Christ who has united us as successors of the apostles in the gift of the same
Spirit. This past year has taught us that the systematic failures in holding
clerics of all rank responsible are due in large measure to flaws in the way we
interact and communicate with each other in the college of bishops in union with
the successor of Peter. But they also reveal in many cases an
inadequate understanding and implementation of key theological realities such as
the relationship between the pope and the bishops, bishops among themselves,
bishops and religious superiors, bishops with their people and the role of
Pope Francis reminded us
in an address to the Congregation of Bishops: “No one
can manage everything; each one in his own way, with humility and honesty, lays
his own badge in a mosaic that belongs to God.” In other words, accountability within the college of bishops, marked by
synodality, can be shaped in a way that becomes a grounded network of guidance,
grace and support that does not leave the individual leader alone in
difficult situations nor rely on the false impression that the Holy See must
come up with all the answers.
The final orienting principle essential to effective structures of
accountability for clergy sexual abuse is the call to accompaniment. If the
Church is truly to embrace victim/survivors of clerical abuse in her arms as a
loving mother, then every structure of accountability must include outreach and
accompaniment that is truly compassionate. Accompaniment entails genuinely
attempting to understand the experience and spiritual journey of the other.
Thus, the structures of reporting, investigation and the evaluation of claims of
abuse must always be designed and evaluated with an understanding of what
survivors undergo as they approach the Church and seek justice. Each instance
of a survivor approaching the Church, whether he or she is seeking solace or
justice, retribution or peace, is an invitation for the Church to genuinely be
Pietà, marked with tenderness and empathy.
Such structures of accountability must also be just and sure, producing
sanctions to protect the vulnerable when the accused is guilty, and declarations
of innocence when the accused is blameless. The call of the Church to accompany
victims demands a mindset that categorically rejects cover-ups or the counsel to
distance ourselves from survivors of abuse for legal reasons or out of a fear of
scandal which blocks true accompaniment with those who have been victimized. It
also demands that we erect structures and legal provisions that manifestly
enshrine the duty to protect the young and the vulnerable as their first and
overarching principle. Perhaps most importantly, the call to accompaniment
demands that bishops and religious superiors reject a clerical worldview that
sees charges of clergy sexual abuse cast against a backdrop of status and
immunities for those in the clerical state. Authentic Christ-like accompaniment
sees all as equal in the Lord, and structures rooted in accompaniment make all
feel and appear equal in the Lord.
These four synodal principals of listening, lay witness, collegiality and
accompaniment are constitutive of the Holy Father’s call to us to prepare for
and open our hearts to the immensity and the importance of the task we undertake
in these days.
Institutional and Legal Structures for Accountability: A Framework
The task before us is to focus these principles upon the design of specific
institutional and legal structures for the purpose of creating genuine
accountability in cases related to the misconduct of bishops and religious
superiors, and their mishandling of cases of child abuse. But, this will demand
that we call each other to an evangelical accountability, anchored in justice
and in the sensitivity which Jesus showed when being “deeply moved by the
sufferings of others, how much his heart was open to others.” With all of that in mind we now turn to what the specific application of
accountability through institutional and legal structures might look like in
cases involving the misconduct of bishops and their mishandling of cases of
Come Una Madre Amorevole
We already, of course, have a guide in the Apostolic Letter
Come una madre amorevole, which sets forth procedures that address, among other things, bishops who
mishandle abuse cases. Briefly stated, a bishop, eparch or major superior of
religious institutes and societies of apostolic life of pontifical right can be
removed if his lack of diligence in this regard is grave, even if there is no
serious intentional fault on his part. The competent Rome congregation opens an
inquiry in accord with Church law to determine if there is foundational proof.
The accused will be informed and given the possibility of defending himself.
Other bishops or eparchs of the respective bishops’ conference or synod may be
consulted before the congregation takes a decision. If removal is the judgment,
it is submitted to the Holy Father for approval, and if upheld, the congregation
can issue a decree or ask the bishop to resign within fifteen days. Otherwise,
the congregation can proceed with removal. We need to read and re-read this letter.
The Task Ahead
What remains to be enacted are clear procedures in cases which for “grave
reasons” could justify the removal from office of a bishop, eparch or religious
superior as defined in the motu proprio
Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutelaand the motu proprio, Come una madre amorevole.
What I offer here are relevant factors that must be considered as each episcopal
conference adopts procedures that equips a synodal church to hold bishops
involved in misconduct and mishandling accountable. My aim here is to offer a
framework that is in keeping with our ecclesiological and canonical traditions
in order to spark conversation among ourselves, knowing that there are
differences in culture, civil and canonical laws and other factors that need to
be considered, and yet aware of the urgency that we take decisive action without
I will group my remarks under three headings: 1. Setting Standards for
Investigation of Bishops, 2. Reporting Allegations and 3. Concrete Procedural Steps.
1. Setting Standards: As episcopal conferences, provinces or dioceses collegially establish
standards for conducting the investigations of bishops, they should involve and
consult lay experts in accord with Canon Law and explore the use of the
Metropolitan, given his traditional role in ordering ecclesial life. All of this
should be done without prejudice to the authority of the Holy See. Wherever the
civil law requires the reporting of abuse of minors that law must be followed
and the policies should make clear those requirements.
2. Reporting Allegations: All mechanisms for reporting allegations of abuse or mishandling of abuse
cases against a bishop should be transparent and well known to the faithful.
Attention should be given to establishing independent reporting mechanisms in
the form of a dedicated telephone line and/or web portal service to receive and
transmit the allegations directly to the Apostolic Nuncio, the Metropolitan of the accused bishop, or as needed his alternate and any lay experts
provided for in norms established by the episcopal conferences. The involvement
of lay experts to assist from this point forward is for the good of the process
and the value of transparency. Other requirements and procedures for reporting
to appropriate ecclesiastical authorities by members of the clergy with
knowledge of a bishop’s misconduct should also be established.
3. Concrete Procedural Steps
In my view, it will be useful to adopt clear procedural steps that are both
rooted in the traditions and structures of the Church, but at the same time
fulfill modern needs to identify and investigate potentially illicit conduct by
bishops. While universal laws can be issued by the Holy See with regard to this
issue – and the Motu Proprio
Come una madre amorevole is the perfect
example – Episcopal Conferences, after appropriate consultations, should
consider adopting special norms to address the particular needs of each
Conference. I believe that our Church is best served if the following
twelve principles find their way into any proposed legislation in this area:
a. Victims and their families, as well as persons who report the allegation, need
to be treated with dignity and respect, and should receive appropriate pastoral
care. Efforts should be made to ensure that victims receive psychological
counseling and other support, which I believe should be funded by the diocese of
the accused bishop.
b. The reporting of an offense should not by impeded by the official secret or
c. No person should be discriminated against, or retaliated against, based upon
the reporting of an allegation against a bishop to ecclesiastical authorities.
d. Due attention should be given to including competent lay women and men with
expertise in the process from beginning to end, out of respect for the
principles of accountability and transparency that I have noted above.
e. Whenever warranted, and at any time during the investigation, the Metropolitan
should be able to recommend to the competent Roman congregation that appropriate
precautionary measures, including temporary and public withdrawal of the accused
from his office, be adopted.
f. If the allegation has even the semblance of truth, which the Metropolitan should
be free to determine with the help of lay experts, the Metropolitan can request
from the Holy See authorization to investigate. The exact nature of the
investigation – whether penal or administrative – would depend on the
allegations. This request is to be forwarded without delay and the congregation should
respond without delay.
g. After the Metropolitan receives authorization he should gather all relevant
information expeditiously, in collaboration with lay experts to ensure the
professional and rapid execution of the investigation and conclude the
h. Any investigation should be conducted with due respect for the privacy and good
name of all persons involved. This does not preclude, however, episcopal
conference adopting norms for informing the faithful of the allegation against
the bishop at any stage of the process. At the same time, it is important that
the accused be accorded the presumption of innocence during the investigation.
i. Upon completion of the investigation the Metropolitan would forward the
including all information gathered with the help of lay experts, along with his
votum, if requested, to the Holy See.
j. A common fund may be established at the national, regional or provincial level
to cover the costs of the investigations of bishops, with due regard to the norms of canon law for its administration.
k. The competence of the Metropolitan would normally cease once the investigation
is completed, but could be extended to assure continuing pastoral care, or for other
specific reasons. The processing of the case of a bishop proceeds from this
point according to the norms of universal law. In accordance with canon law, the Holy See will either take the case of a
bishop to itself for purposes of resolution by an administrative or penal
process or other disposition, or the Holy See may return the case to the
Metropolitan with further directions as to how to proceed.
l. And finally, of course, unless otherwise established by special law, it pertains
to the Roman Pontiff to make a final decision.
What I present here is a framework for constructing new legal structures of
accountability in the Church. This effort will require steadfast trust and
openness in identifying with the aid of everyone in the Church, and with due
regard for the diverse cultures and the universality of our Church, the legal
and institutional pathways to safeguard young people in a just, compassionate
and robust manner.
Saint John Paul II spoke to this reality in his groundbreaking Apostolic Letter
Novo Millennio Ineunte, when he observed that we need the wisdom of the
law to provide precise rules to guarantee the participation of all the baptized,
that rejects any arbitrariness and is in keeping with our tradition of ordering
Church life. At the same time, he emphasized, there is a correlative
spirituality of communion that “supplies institutional reality with a soul.”
We must move to establish robust laws and structures regarding the
accountability of bishops precisely to supply with a new soul the institutional
reality of the Church’s discipline on sexual abuse.
In closing, I want to bring you back to that Memorial Mass that I celebrated in
Chicago for the children and religious who had died in the fire at Our Lady of
the Angels school. During the recessional hymn the elderly immigrant mother who
had spoken to me earlier, still holding firmly the santino in her hand,
stopped me to tell me how comforted she was by the celebration, consoled that
the church had not forgotten her child. Then she did something quite
extraordinary and so very symbolic. She placed the santino in my hands,
entrusting her child to the church whom she recognized as Pietà, a loving
mother. Sisters and brothers, we must work tirelessly in these days to justify
that trust and honor such great faith.
Thank you for listening.
 Pope Francis,
Address to the Congregation of Bishops, February 27, 2014.
 Pope Francis,
Amoris Laetitia, 144.
 Pope Francis, Apostolic Letter
Come una madre, 2016.
 In addition, presently, an effort is underway to guarantee that the procedures
are standardized among the congregations, but the law is already applicable and
in force, as is evidenced in recent cases.
 See Norms on delicta graviora, arts. 1-6. Alternatives to the Metropolitan should be established if he is the accused or
if the Metropolitan See is vacant. The alternate could be the nearest
Metropolitan within the same episcopal conference, or one from a list created a priori by each episcopal conference. Otherwise, the allegation could be forwarded to the senior suffragan
bishop of the Province, who assumes the role of the Metropolitan in these cases.
In the case of an allegation against a bishop of an Eastern Catholic Church, it
could be forwarded to the Patriarch, the Major Archbishop, or the Metropolitan
of the Metropolitan Churches sui iuris, depending on the structure of the
Eastern Catholic Church, unless another provision is made by the Holy See.
 It is recognized that lay professionals with specialized knowledge may be duly
authorized to carry out an investigation, but all investigations must remain
under the appropriate ecclesiastical authority. See e.g., CIC, c. 274 §1 (“Only clerics can obtain offices the exercise of which requires the power of
order or the power of ecclesiastical governance.”); see also CIC, cc.
1405, 1717. This, however, does not impede the rights and duties of the laity in
making their opinion known to the pastors and the rest of the Christian faithful
on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, cf., CIC, c. 212 §3.
 This would not always be a
penal preliminary investigation under
the Canon Law, since
As a Loving Mother also covers non-penal misconduct
(such as negligence).
 All appropriate steps shall be taken to protect the exercise of the rights
afforded under canon law. CIC, c. 221; see also
As a Loving Mother, art.
2 § 2.
CIC, c. 1274 §§ 3-5.
 CIC, c. 1275. Lay people can be selected to administer funds. Cf., CIC,
c., 1279. If funds are not available for the investigation, the Metropolitan
shall make an immediate request for funding to the competent Roman congregation.
 See CIC, c. 142 §1See CIC, c. 142 §1.
Come una madre, arts. 2-5.
Cf., CIC, c. 1718; cf.,
Come una madre, arts. 2-5.
Cf., CIC, c. 1405;
Come una madre, art. 5.