(Reuters) – Catholic bishops in the United States plan to set up a hotline to field complaints about bishops who have sexually abused or harassed children or adults, in response to a growing sexual misconduct scandal in the church’s highest ranks.
The hotline was one of several moves unveiled on Wednesday by bishops to try to rebuild trust in the U.S. church hierarchy after recent allegations that bishops had abused children and covered up decades of sex crimes by priests.
“Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) administrative committee said in a statement.
“They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others. They have allowed the fear of scandal to replace genuine concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers.”
The Catholic Church faces crises worldwide involving sexual abuse of minors. In the United States, the scandal has focussed on church leaders after former Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick stepped down as a cardinal in July following sexual abuse allegations.
A Pennsylvania grand jury report in August alleged bishops tried to hide accusations that about 1,000 children and adults were abused by 301 priests over 70 years.
Last week, Pope Francis ordered an investigation into a West Virginia bishop accused of sexually harassing adults.
The “third-party” hotline will allow people to report sexual abuse of a minor or adult by a bishop and direct those complaints to civil authorities and the “appropriate” church authorities, the USCCB statement said.
The bishops’ conference will develop a code of conduct specifically for bishops, and establish policies “addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests,” the statement said.
New York’s attorney general issued civil subpoenas last week to all eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state as part of a sex abuse investigation.
In one of the largest settlements stemming from a sexual abuse case in the Catholic Church, the Brooklyn Diocese said on Tuesday it agreed to pay $27.5 million (21 million pounds) to four men abused by a catechism teacher when they were children.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, N.M.; Editing by Peter Cooney)