Bishop Folda responds to recent USCCB meeting

by Paul Braun | New Earth

From left to right: Bishop Christopher Coyne, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Bishop Timothy Doherty at the USCCB news conference in Baltimore Nov. 12. (Christine Rousselle/CNA)

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) General Assembly, held in Baltimore Nov. 12–14, was convened in part to address the concerns and genuine anger of Catholics in the U.S. over recently reported incidences of past sexual abuse by clergy, primarily reports coming from Pennsylvania. The bishops had intended to take action at their November meeting, voting on two policies they hoped would address the Church’s sexual abuse crisis: a code of conduct for bishops, and the creation of a lay-led panel to investigate claims of misconduct or negligence by bishops.

As the meeting began, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, announced that the Holy See had insisted that the bishops not vote on their own proposals, and instead wait until after a February meeting at the Vatican of the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world. The announcement seemed to surprise almost everyone in the room, including Bishop Folda, along with Catholic faithful across the United States.

New Earth sat down with Bishop Folda to discuss what happened in Baltimore, what didn’t happen, and how the lay faithful can have confidence as the Church moves forward to address the sexual abuse scandal in 2019.

New Earth: There was tremendous build-up to the USCCB General Assembly meeting last month. What were U.S. bishops proposing, and why did the Holy See object to a vote?

Bishop Folda: The proposals before the bishops included a code of conduct for bishops, a third party system for reporting allegations of misconduct by bishops, an independent panel led by laity to investigate such allegations, and a protocol for dealing with allegations against retired bishops. At the very beginning of the bishops’ meeting, we were informed that the Vatican asked us to delay a vote on the proposed measures. Pope Francis has called a meeting of the presidents of every national bishops conference from around the world to be held in February, and these issues will be addressed at that time. I believe the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican asked us to delay a vote on these proposals so that our decisions might be taken in view of the actions of the upcoming conference with Pope Francis.

New Earth: Do you feel, in light of what happened in Baltimore, that the issue is being taken seriously here and in Rome?

Bishop Folda: I have no doubt that these issues are taken very seriously both here and in Rome. The U.S. bishops are united in our determination to act on these problems, and we see this as a delay but not the final word. I know the Holy See is also serious about these issues. Pope Francis recently removed a cardinal and several bishops from office due to allegations of abuse, and I expect he will take further actions as well.

New Earth: Some say the lack of action just deepens their distrust in the Church on the issue of transparency. Could you address those concerns?

Bishop Folda: I know some people were disappointed that no votes were taken on these messages at our recent meeting, but as I said, this delay is not the final word. We made public the proposals before us, and already consulted widely with lay advisors and experts on these measures. There may be some modifications, but there is no turning back from the direction we are headed to get this done.

New Earth: Do you have any personal thoughts on what transpired in Baltimore?

Bishop Folda: I was frustrated that our hands were tied and wish we could have acted on the proposals before us. From what I could tell, nearly all the bishops felt the same way, but I also understand the value of enacting measures that will be consistent with the universal Church. I have no doubts that we will move forward with the measures that are being developed, and I believe Pope Francis will support these actions.

New Earth: Where do we go from here? What message do you want to convey to the faithful in our diocese?

Bishop Folda: There is no place for abuse in the Church, especially by clergy. The mass media and social media often give the impression that nothing has been done to remove such abuse, but this is not the case at all. We still have work to do, but we're in better shape than before. I intend to keep working with the lay faithful and clergy of our diocese to assist victims of abuse and to deal properly with offenders.