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Reporting system to record abuse complaints against bishops begins

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle, center, and other prelates pray during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore November 12, 2019. The third-party reporting system to record abuse complaints against bishops, approved in November, has officially begun. Photo: CNS/Bob Roller Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle, center, and other prelates pray during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore November 12, 2019. The third-party reporting system to record abuse complaints against bishops, approved in November, has officially begun. Photo: CNS/Bob Roller

A reporting system accepting sexual misconduct allegations against U.S. bishops 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.

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.

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 routes reports to the appropriate church authority consistent with canon law. It does not conduct any investigation.

Approved by the U.S. bishops in June 2019 at their spring general assembly, the reporting mechanism meets the requirements established by Pope Francis in his apostolic letter Vos Estis Lux Mundi (You Are the Light of the World) to have a way of receiving reports of sexual misconduct by a bishop.

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. Allegations against a metropolitan will be forwarded to the senior suffragan bishop in the appropriate province. The U.S. has 32 metropolitans. Each province has one archdiocese and several dioceses. Archbishop Paul D. Etienne is the metropolitan who presides over the province that includes the dioceses of Seattle, Yakima and Spokane. If a report is received about Archbishop Etienne, it will be forwarded to Bishop Joseph Tyson in Yakima, who is the senior suffragan bishop of the 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 the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C.

– 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 that 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.

Anthony Picarello, USCCB associate general secretary, told the bishops during their fall general assembly in November that the system is designed to filter complaints so that only those addressed in the apostolic letter 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 directly.

Allegations of sexual abuse by a priest, deacon, religious, diocesan staff member or volunteer will be directed to the local diocesan victim assistance coordinator under the process that has been in place under the 2002 “Charter for Protection of Children and Young People.”

Pope Francis released his apostolic letter 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 apostolic letter requires dioceses worldwide to establish “one or more public, stable and easily accessible systems for submission of reports” by May 31.

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