Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has announced the formation of a Ministerial Misconduct Advisory Board to review cases involving clerics accused of misconduct that involves adults or occurs in the exercise of his ministry.
The board will review cases in which the bishop must consider action regarding a priest or deacon’s assignment, including temporary or permanent removal or suspension.
The new advisory panel has been created independent of the Diocesan Review Board, mandated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which advises the bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in his determination of suitability for ministry.
“I’m grateful for all the good and difficult work done in the past few years to address the sexual abuse issue. We have many excellent policies in place for the protection of children, and our Safe Environments programs have been a model of prevention and early detection. However, we have more work to do,” said Bishop Caggiano.
The bishop said the goal of the advisory board is to review credible reports of ministerial misconduct involving adults and to assess the plan designed to address the issue. Additionally, it creates a mechanism for parishes, including lay leadership, to be notified and consulted regarding the assignment of a priest or deacon.
“As I begin my ministry, I think it is important to create new structures to make sure I have the tools and resources to give me the assurance that any allegation is properly reviewed, taken to civil authorities if necessary, and that responsible and transparent actions be taken immediately,” Bishop Caggiano said.
“These new norms are presented for both the protection of our community of faithful and for the maintenance and protection of the integrity of the priesthood,” he added.
The diocese is in the process of assembling the new Ministerial Misconduct Advisory Board. The board will draw on the expertise of the lay community, including mental health professionals as well as a priest and deacon. A complete list of members will be included in the next issue of Fairfield County Catholic.
The proposed new policy states that if the diocese has received a credible report of any allegation of unlawful ministerial misconduct by a priest or deacon not involving a minor, the Vicar for Clergy, after consulting with the Vicar General and the Chancellor, will immediately refer the matter to the proper civil authorities.
Remaining unchanged in diocesan policy is the established procedure that all reports of ministerial misconduct on the part of a priest or deacon must be made directly to the Vicar of Clergy.
In cases where misconduct is not unlawful, the situation will be investigated and fully reviewed by the Vicar General, Chancellor and Vicar for Clergy to determine a comprehensive response. The Advisory Board may be asked to review the nature of the offense and help to prepare an appropriate rehabilitation plan.
If the bishop proposes to return a priest or deacon to ministry, before such assignment is made, the Vicar for Clergy will meet with the priests, deacons, staff and parish lay leaders to review the proposed placement. Parish leaders will be briefed with a summary of the original offense and a report on the measures taken.
If the assignment is made, it will ordinarily be made on a provisional basis, requiring that the Vicar for Clergy visit the parish after a six-month period to review the overall assignment. If the report is positive, the assignment will then be made permanent.
Bishop Caggiano said it was important that the new advisory board and its recommended actions respect the rights of victims, seek a plan of rehabilitation for the offender and is transparent in its communications with parishioners.