Ten Steps Toward Reforming the Catholic Church

Proposed by Voice of the Faithful

The sexual abuse scandal that has swept across the United States, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and many other countries has finally been recognized by the Vatican as a global crisis—one that has reached the very top of the Catholic Church. It took too long. We cannot wait longer for the hierarchy to take the steps needed to prevent similar outrages in the future. We must insist on accountability that exposes and penalizes those who enabled the ongoing abuses and coverups. Then we must begin the process of restoring our Church. Following is a list of 10 reforms proposed by Voice of the Faithful that would help heal our Church.

1. Protect children: Adopt the U.S. norms for reporting abuse and the safe environment standards currently in place in some U.S. dioceses on a global scale, in every diocese of the Church and with independent auditing of compliance.

2. Support Survivors of abuse: Stop fighting lawsuits; create independent national commissions staffed by the Catholic laity to arbitrate future claims; issue personal apologies from each bishop to individual survivors in each diocese; cease all lobbying efforts by the Church and its agents against statute of limitations reform in the U.S. and all other jurisdictions.

3. Identify Abusers: Identify all known abusers through national registries, while ensuring due process for any clergy and religious who are accused of abuse.

4. Hold accountable all who facilitated abuse: All religious authorities who transferred abusers without adequate supervision and separation from children should resign.

5. Conduct independent investigations of abuse: Commission independent professional studies to determine the presence and depth of the crisis in all countries.

  • In 2009, the Irish government released its report that detailed the horrific years of abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin. It is a model for the examinations that should occur in every country.

6. Inquire into the causes of the crisis: Investigate the culture of clerical, male-dominated leadership that excludes the laity and women from positions of authority. Determine to what extent mandatory celibacy and other factors contributed to the moral failures of those in authority as well as of those who sometimes ignored obvious signs of abuse.

  • Review the Causes and Context study done by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
  • Support the efforts of the Voice of the Faithful’s Universal Church Reform team efforts to bring about a greater role for women in the Church and study the need for mandated celibacy.

7. Empower the laity: Educate clergy and laity as to lay rights and responsibilities in the parish, in the diocese, and in the global governance of the Church, and codify those rights where they are not explicitly cited in canon law.

8. Develop inclusive governance structures: Give the laity a meaningful role in the selection of bishops; restore the requirement that bishops must come from the diocese they serve; refine the role of the “sense of the faithful” (sensus fidelium) and representative procedures; strengthen the independence of and lay participation in national episcopal conferences.

  • Voice of the Faithful’s Universal Church Reform team has developed a consultative process that involves the participation of the local community in the selection of their next bishop and that encourages selection of the bishop from the local diocesan community. Click here to read the proposal.

9. Require financial transparency: Conduct annual independent audits of financial practices and financial statements at parish and diocesan levels; hold independent elections for parish pastoral councils and finance councils; apply unified reporting standards for all parishes and dioceses.

  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has distributed a few guidelines for finance councils. But you can find more-detailed guidelines here along with descriptive case histories.
  • Join Voice of the Faithful’s Local Action team who are working to establish best practices for parish finance councils and ensure that parishes across the U.S. are in compliance.

10. Host a representative global council of the Church: Establish a global Catholic Council of the entire People of God, with lay and ordained voting representatives, to be held within the decade, to adopt necessary reforms.

  • Theologian Hans Kung recently wrote an open letter to Catholic bishops worldwide asking for reform and accountability. Click here to read the text of that letter.

It is not too late to restore our Church to the vibrant messenger of the gospel it is meant to be—a Church where our children and grandchildren look forward to joining us on Sundays as we worship together the way generations of Catholics have done before, proud to call ourselves Catholic.