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Metuchen bishop participates in votes for accountability measures, third-party reporting system

June 25, 2019

PISCATAWAY – Bishop James F. Checchio of the Diocese of Metuchen participated in a series of three separate votes to hold bishops accountable for instances of sexual abuse of children or vulnerable persons, sexual misconduct, or the intentional mishandling of such cases.

The votes, which took place June 13 at the Spring General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore, were based on and consistent with the new universal laws for the reporting and handling of complaints against bishops, as set forth in the Motu Proprio “Vos estis lux mundi" – or "You are the light of the world" – issued by Pope Francis in May.

The Motu Proprio is a legislative text that modifies or adds to Church law, known as canon law which applies universally to the Catholic Church throughout the world. The Holy Father’s Motu Proprio calls for a mandatory process – not voluntary – for Church investigations of complaints against bishops, not just priests and deacons, for allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.

“These initiatives and votes formally hold bishops to the same high standards that have been applied to priests, deacons and lay personnel since the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, originally established by the USCCB in June 2002. This is the latest step of many that the Church has taken to respond to the scourge of sexual abuse in our midst,” said Bishop Checchio. “No one is exempt from oversight, regardless of a person’s rank or status, or the number of years that have passed since an incident occurred. The Motu Proprio strengthens the protections already in place.”

To ensure that accountability is maintained on all levels, Bishop Checchio in August 2018 announced the formation of a senior team of lay men and women, ahead of the release of the Motu Proprio. By this measure, Bishop Checchio established an independent reporting structure outside the Diocese of Metuchen to allow for priests, deacons and seminarians to bring forward an allegation against anyone in authority in the Church, including himself, without fear of retribution.

“Far too many abuses occurred in the history of the Church, and were allowed to continue because the abuse was not properly addressed by those in power,” Bishop Checchio said, “but our present Church is changing that in favor of more lay involvement in the process and more transparency.”

Like all complaints of allegations of abuse perpetrated by clergy in the U.S., any claim against a bishop or clergy member in a position of authority within the Church will be reported to the appropriate County Prosecutor’s Office. Anyone who has been harmed in any way, by any clergy member in the Church, should not wait for the national reporting system to be in place before reporting abuse. Individuals who may have been abused should contact local law enforcement to file a report as soon as possible and are also encouraged to contact the Diocesan Response Officer at (908) 930-4558 to report an offense or arrange for counseling assistance. The diocese strictly adheres to its continued policy for reporting in that the first call the diocese makes after receiving a complaint involving an allegation is to the County Prosecutor’s Office in which the alleged incident took place.

The Motu Proprio explicitly permits the use of lay experts, free from any conflict of interest, to investigate and provide counsel to the Church in the investigation of clergy including bishops or those in positions of authority. In the U.S. and in the Diocese of Metuchen, the professional expertise, counsel and wisdom of the laity is an integral part of the process. The diocese’s review board even includes a past victim of clerical sexual abuse, who is able to offer insights from a survivor’s perspective.

At the June meeting, the U.S. bishops approved three documents related to the reporting and the investigating of claims of abuse. The first deals with bishops who were removed from office or resigned their office for reasons of sexual abuse or intentional mishandling of cases. The second reaffirms the commitments the bishops make to live according to the Gospel and to place themselves under the same high standards applied to their priests, deacons, and lay personnel. The last deals specifically with the reporting and investigating of complaints against bishops.

Additionally, the bishops voted overwhelmingly in favor of each of the elements necessary to establish a third-party reporting system:

  • The bishops voted to authorize the design of a third-party system for receiving confidentially, by phone or online, reports of possible violations by bishops of “Vos estis lux mundi.” Complaints against a bishop can continue to be reported directly to law enforcement, the chancery and to the nuncio.
  • The bishops voted to authorize the Executive Committee to develop a more detailed proposal for a third-party reporting system, including financial, structural, and other necessary adjustments to account for “Vos estis lux mundi,” for review and approval by the Conference’s Administrative Committee at its September and November 2019 meetings.
  • The bishops voted in favor of committing to activate the third-party reporting system by no later than May 31, 2020.

With these additional safeguards, Bishop Checchio and the U.S. bishops are committed to making the process for Church investigations more transparent and effective in eradicating any semblance of abuse.

“Abuse has no place in God’s house and these measures are a testament that we are committed to advancing the mission of the Church with integrity, so that all the faithful may be properly protected and the Church may be a renewed sign of light to the world,” said Bishop Checchio.

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