Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Real progress and a commitment to reform

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

To read this column in Spanish, click here.

At the conclusion of February’s Vatican meeting on the protection of minors in the church, Pope Francis promised concrete results, and they came with a swiftness rarely seen in society, let alone in the church. Within 90 days he issued four legislative documents designed, as he stated, to “reinforce the protection of minors by strengthening the normative framework.”

The first three documents involved norms for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults in Vatican City and those who staff the various offices of the Holy See. The fourth text, “Vos estis lux mundi,” established universal church law for the reporting and handling cases of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

It was this last document that preoccupied the bishops’ attention at the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last week in Baltimore, as we crafted procedures for implementing this universal law in the United States.

Our meeting produced five outcomes:

1.      the establishment of a national hotline managed by a third-party entity that will receive reports of misconduct and mishandling of cases by bishops;

2.     the requirement that each diocese inform the faithful and the public of the system in place for reporting allegations against bishops, either directly to the office the metropolitan bishop has designated for this purpose and staffed by a qualified lay expert or to the national hotline;

3.     the defined role and responsibilities of the lay expert designated by each metropolitan to receive allegations. These include:

•  engaging and interacting with the third-party entity established at the national level to receive reports;

•  informing the public about how to report cases involving bishops;

•  receiving reports on behalf of the metropolitan, either through the third-party entity managing the hotline or made directly to the metropolitan;

•  gathering any needed additional information from the one making the report if there is a need for clarification about details that are time-, place- and person-specific;

•  advising the metropolitan on the merits of sending the case to Rome; and

•  coordinating pastoral outreach to those who come forward with allegations;

4.     the requirement that each metropolitan create a list of lay experts after consulting with the bishops in the province to assist with any investigation ordered by the Holy See following the initial report by the metropolitan; and

5.     the establishment of procedures for submitting the results of the investigation to the Holy See, with defined timelines, as provided in the universal law, that is 30 days for the Holy See to make a decision after receiving the initial report and 90 days for the completion of the investigation, guidelines for conflict-of-interest issues and confidentiality measures to protect the accusers and due process norms.

We were able to craft and nearly unanimously approve this very substantial document (only one “no” vote) because we took the time in a spirit of unity to reflect on and study the challenges, aided particularly by the pathway provided by the Holy Father, who is the guarantor of unity in the church.

The task before us now is to put into practice what we pledged to do. As soon as possible I will announce the system to receive reports involving bishops in the Chicago province (the bishops of Illinois) and complete the work of creating, with the assistance of the bishops in the province, a list of lay experts who could be called upon to assist with any eventual investigation.

There is much work to do as we address the challenges we face, but the church universally and in the United States has taken a big step forward, building on the progress we have made. It is worth reminding everyone of the leadership in our archdiocese, which has been at the forefront of dealing with this crisis for nearly 30 years. It is summarized in the sidebar of this article, and expanded on at

Please take the time to familiarize yourself with these efforts and feel free to make suggestions on how we can build on this work. Children, wherever they are served by the adult world, are all our responsibility.

Safe-environment measures taken by the Archdiocese of Chicago

Healing and respect of victims is our priority and starting point. Nearly three decades ago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin led the way in establishing a victim-assistance program, which to date has helped more than 400 victim-survivors and their families.

•   Starting in 2002, we have reported all allegations of child sexual abuse to civil authorities when they are received. At that time, we reported all historical allegations whether the accused was alive or dead, a diocesan priest, an extern priest from another diocese or religious-order priest.

•   We investigate every allegation against an archdiocesan priest, regardless of whether the accused is alive or dead.

•   When we learn of an allegation of abuse we promptly report it to civil authorities, remove the accused from ministry and investigate the allegation. Allegations are submitted to our lay-majority independent review board for investigation. Since its establishment in 1992, this board has conducted 255 recorded meetings.

•   Since 2006, we have published the names of archdiocesan priests with substantiated allegations of abuse, and in 2014 we released more than 20,000 documents from these priests’ files.

•   Safe-environment efforts in the church have made progress. The last known case of sexual abuse of a minor by a member of the clergy took place in the archdiocese almost 15 years ago. There have been two allegations of child pornography during the past five years, which also have been reported to civil authorities. According to the USCCB and CARA at Georgetown University, in the last decade there have been on average four cases of abuse of minors annually by clerics in the entire United States, with a Catholic population of 70 million.

•   Sexual abuse of children is a problem across society. Therefore, we conduct background screenings for all archdiocesan employees and volunteers and implement a comprehensive safe-environment training program for adults and children. Last year alone, we trained 112,000 children in an age-appropriate manner on how to recognize, resist and report abusive behavior. To date we have trained more than 263,000 adults in 3,700 training sessions.

•   We have subjected our processes, policies and files to the review of independent experts multiple times to help ensure we remain accountable and current in dealing with this issue.

• We stand ready to cooperate with all institutions and agencies that care for children and will share our experience and learning. No matter where a child is educated or cared for, they are all our children and deserve to be protected.



  • 125th anniversary
  • clergy sexual abuse