Reporting system to record abuse complaints against bishops begins

Catholic News Service and staff reports

A reporting system accepting sexual misconduct allegations against U.S. bishops and eparchs is in place.

Called the Catholic Bishops Abuse Reporting Service, or CBAR, the system became operational March 16.

The mechanism incorporates a website and a toll-free telephone number through which individuals can file reports regarding a bishop.

The website is ReportBishopAbuse.org. Calls can be placed at (800) 276-1562.

A link to the site is also available at www.dioceseofnashville.com.

The nationwide system is being implemented by individual dioceses under the direction of each respective cardinal, archbishop or bishop. The information gathered will be protected through enhanced encryption.

The Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting service allows for individuals to relay to Church authorities any reports of a U.S. Catholic bishop who has: 

• Forced someone to perform or to submit to sexual acts through violence, threat, or abuse of authority.

• Performed sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person. 

• Produced, exhibited, possessed, or distributed child pornography, or recruited or induced a minor or a vulnerable person to participate in pornographic exhibitions.

• Or, a diocesan or eparchial bishop, or a cleric overseeing a diocese/eparchy in the absence of a diocesan or eparchial bishop, who has intentionally interfered with a civil or Church investigation into allegations of sexual abuse committed by another cleric or religious.

The system works like this:

• Calls initially will come into a central phone bank, where trained personnel will ask for information about the allegation being made including the name of the person making the report and his or her contact information. People also will have the option of filing a report online if they do not want to call. People will not be required to give their name if they wish to remain anonymous.

• The information gathered will be forwarded to the appropriate metropolitan, or archbishop, responsible for each diocese in a province. The U.S. has 32 metropolitans. Each province has one archdiocese and several dioceses.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville is the metropolitan who presides over the province that includes the dioceses of Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville in Tennessee and Covington, Lexington and Owensboro and the Archdiocese of Louisville in Kentucky.

In the event that a report is received that concerns Archbishop Kurtz, then it will be forwarded to Bishop Roger Joseph Foys of the Diocese of Covington, who is the senior suffragan bishop of this local province.

• The information also will be forwarded to a layperson designated to assist the bishop in receiving allegations.

• After review, the metropolitan or senior suffragan will send the report to the apostolic nuncio in Washington.

• The nuncio is required to send the report and the metropolitan’s assessment to the Vatican, which has 30 days to determine if a formal investigation is warranted. If so, a bishop will be authorized to oversee an investigation.

• When an investigation is ordered, qualified experts, including laypeople, will conduct it. An investigation is expected to be completed within 90 days and forwarded to the Vatican.

• Vatican officials will review the findings of the investigation and determine the appropriate process leading to a final judgment.

As each case is filed, the person reporting an incident will be given a case number and password which can be used to follow progress of their particular case.

Individuals who file a report also will be encouraged to contact local law enforcement if they believe they have been a victim of a crime.

Denver-based Convercent developed the reporting system under a two-year contract with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The company specializes in ethics and compliance management for businesses and organizations.

Under the system, the company gathers information and routs reports to the appropriate Church authority consistent with canon law. It does not conduct any investigation.

Approved by the U.S. bishops in June at their spring general assembly, the reporting mechanism meets the requirements established by Pope Francis in his “motu proprio” “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the light of the world”) to have a way of receiving reports of sexual misconduct by a bishop.

“Motu proprio” is a Latin phrase that means “on one’s own initiative.” Popes use it to signal a special personal interest in a subject.

Pope Francis released his “motu proprio” last May following a worldwide meeting of bishops’ conference leaders at the Vatican early in 2019 to discuss the Church’s response to clergy sexual abuse. The document specifically addresses allegations of sexual misconduct and other accusations of actions or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil or Church investigations of such misconduct by clergy.

The “motu proprio” requires dioceses and eparchies worldwide to establish “one or more public, stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports” by May 31.

Anthony Picarello, USCCB associate general secretary, told the bishops during their fall general assembly in November the system is designed to filter complaints so that only those addressed in the “motu proprio” will be forwarded.

Under CBAR, people with complaints about any other actions of a bishop, such as diocesan assignments, church closings, liturgy or homily content, will be asked to contact the appropriate diocese or eparchy directly.

The reporting of sexual misconduct by anyone in diocesan ministry who is not a bishop, such as priests, deacons, religious brothers and sisters, or lay persons working or volunteering for the Church should continue to be handled in accordance with the Diocese of Nashville’s child protection policy and with proper civil authorities.