Reflecting on the bishop’s Advisory Board

Catholic Herald

Jim Byrne

A decade ago, bishops across the United States set about implementing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. It was a watershed moment in the clergy abuse scandals rocking our church. At the time, as Catholic parents ourselves, my wife and I had grave concerns, and our pastor challenged me to participate in helping to make the changes required by this charter.

The USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was drafted in Dallas in 2002. With it, an institutional amends began. Few of my fellow Catholics seem to comprehend its impact. To date, 194 dioceses/eparchies in the United States have made radical changes. More than 2 million adults are now trained to recognize potentially abusive behavior and to respond in keeping with civil and canon law. The U.S. church now has a background check process more stringent than most school systems, having checked more than 2.3 million volunteers, employees, candidates for ordination and clerics — anyone who has substantial contact with children under the aegis of the church. Many other related programs have been established, each requiring extensive fact-finding, research and counsel for our bishops. I have been honored, with others, to participate in that process in our diocese.

One critical step under the charter established in each diocese a review board to advise their bishop on matters pertaining to the charter. This step was seen as historic. It opened a dialog between bishops and laity at a new level, helping energize the church at every level. It also helped bishops break through the insular thinking that led to deleterious decisions with regard to sexual predators ordained or otherwise working in some dioceses.

In 2003, with the close support and help of Oblate Father Mark Mealey, vicar general, Bishop Paul S. Loverde created Arlington’s Diocesan Review Board. He tasked this board to review allegations of sexual misconduct. For other duties required by the “essential norms,” however, the bishop created a separate diocesan Advisory Board. Our task was to launch diverse programs ranging from an equitable system of background checks, to broad-scale training, to victim outreach and care. While the norms required each diocese to have only a review board tasked with all these responsibilities, our bishop was one of only a few who chose to split responsibilities. Doing so, he multiplied the impact of lay people, sisters and priests in helping the church change and move forward.

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