Younger bishops ready for action after Vatican summit on sex abuse

Kansas City (MO)
National Catholic Reporter

February 28, 2019

By Heidi Schlumpf

The November 2018 bishops’ meeting was Bishop W. Shawn McKnight’s first as a prelate, having been named to lead the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, a year earlier. Normally, a new bishop would refrain from speaking from the floor, but after the surprise announcement to delay action on sex abuse until after the Vatican global summit on the topic in February, McKnight couldn’t keep silent. He approached the microphone and shared how “heartbroken” and concerned he felt for the future of the church.

Now that the Feb. 21-24 Vatican summit has concluded, McKnight — and several other newer, younger bishops — are ready to implement changes that would hold accountable bishops who cover up abuse, or are abusers themselves.

McKnight believes the summit has given the bishops the “green light” to move forward at the upcoming June meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore, where he sees “the themes of transparency and accountability coming to some sort of concrete decision.”

“The validity and the success of the summit will depend on the concrete outcomes,” the 50-year-old bishop told NCR, adding that he believes action is necessary. “Right now that’s what people want to see.”

In his own diocese, McKnight has already required religious communities ministering there to commit to releasing names of credibly accused abusers by end of 2019. He also developed a protocol in which any accusation against him would be reported to the lay review board in St. Louis, similar to Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich’s proposal to involve “metropolitan” bishops.

Although McKnight is “not sold on any one particular proposal” for consideration at the national meeting in June, it must include meaningful lay participation, which is the only way to address the root problem of clericalism, he said.

“That needs to be part and parcel of how we structure ourselves and make decisions at every level of the church,” he said, referencing a shared style of leadership based in Scripture. “Maybe that’s all we need is a return to an older way of how we exercise power and authority as bishops.”

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