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 | By Doug Culp

U.S. Bishops increase accountability measures

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held its 2019 Spring General Assembly in Baltimore from June 11 to June 14. In terms of anticipation and importance to the U.S. Church, the U.S. protocols for the application of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter, Vos estis lux mundi (You Are The Light of the World), topped the list. In the letter dated May 7, 2019, Pope Francis established new procedures for reporting abuse and for holding both the abuser and the bishops and religious superiors accountable for their actions.

Bishop Accountability

The U.S. Bishops voted overwhelmingly to establish a third-party reporting system for reporting abuse allegations against bishops. In three separate votes, they voted to authorize the design of a third-party system for confidentially receiving reports of possible violation by bishops of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter; to authorize the Executive Committee to develop a more detailed proposal for the system to be approved by the conference’s Administrative Committee at its September and November 2019 meetings; and to activate the system no later than May 31, 2020.

The Bishops also passed three additional measures aimed at holding bishops accountable for sexual misconduct against minors and adults that expand on both Vos estis lux mundi and the U.S. Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. “The Protocol Regarding Available Non-Penal Restrictions on Bishops” provides the protocol for imposing limits on former bishops removed from office for grave reasons, and empowers the USCCB president to restrict bishops removed or resigned for reasons related to sexual abuse or abuse of power.

“Acknowledging Our Episcopal Commitments” implements a bishop code of conduct that clearly affirms the aforementioned Charter includes bishops in addition to priests and deacons. The “Directives for the Implementation of the Provisions of Vos estis lux mundi Concerning Bishops and their Equivalents” presents a plan for the implementation of Pope Francis’ apostolic letter in the U.S. The “Directives” do provide an outline for how the laity should be involved, but fall short of mandating such involvement.

Other Highlights

The Spring General Assembly produced several other notable votes. For instance, the Bishops approved a revision of the language in the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults (pp. 394-395) that deals with the death penalty to align it with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The catechism (no. 2267) had been changed to reflect Pope Francis’ revision to the teaching on the death penalty in August of 2018.

In a provisional vote, the Bishops passed the provisional Strategic Priorities for the 2021-24 USCCB Strategic Plan. The National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, 2nd edition, was approved for use along with a new translation of the ritual book used for the ordination of bishops, priests and deacons.

Finally, the Bishops conducted a canonical consultation on the cause for canonization of the Servant of God Irving (a.k.a., Francis) C. Houle, and indicated support for the advancement of the cause on the diocesan level.


As of April 2019 in the U.S., there are …


living cardinals


active and retired bishops




A Time to Heal retreat

A healing retreat was held for victim/survivors of sexual abuse by clergy at the St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt in early May. These days were intended to affirm the impact of such abuse on survivors, provide a faith-based healing experience and connect survivors to a community invested in supporting each other’s healing.

The retreat was facilitated by Cheryl Williams-Hecksel, victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Lansing, along with a team that included a survivor of clergy sexual abuse and mental health counselors. Bishop Boyea joined the retreat and listened to survivors share about the impact the abuse has had on them, their families and their faith. This session concluded with Bishop Boyea providing an apology on behalf of the Church, and acknowledging the lasting wounds of the abuse. Father David Rosenberg, director of the retreat center, also served on the team and celebrated a healing Mass at the conclusion of the two-day retreat.

The retreatants found it a positive experience and expressed an interest in continuing to join together for mutual support. This ministry will continue to explore ways to support survivors of sexual abuse through additional retreats and opportunities to join together in a community of healing. For more information on upcoming retreats, contact Cheryl Williams-Hecksel at 888.308.6252 or

Praying for Healing

God of endless love,

ever caring, ever strong,

always present, always just:

You gave your only Son

To save us by the blood of his cross.

Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace,

join to your own suffering

the pain of all who have been hurt

in body, mind, and spirit

by those who betrayed the trust

placed in them.

Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts,

heal your peoples’ wounds

and transform our brokenness.

Grant us courage and wisdom,

humility and grace,

so that we may act with justice

and find peace in you.

We ask this through Christ, our Lord.



In the days leading up to the 2019 Spring General Assembly, the USCCB launched a new website “highlighting the importance of prevention, protection and accountability in response to the ongoing effort to eradicate clergy sexual abuse.” The site houses numerous resources and can be found at