BALTIMORE -- Amid a clergy sex abuse scandal that has shown no sign of abating, America's Roman Catholic bishops began their annual spring conference Tuesday with pledges to implement a series of first-ever measures aimed at holding each other accountable for misconduct.
Up for debate are new protocols for investigating prelates accused of failing to adequately respond to abuse or, in some cases, of committing sexual transgressions themselves.
But while nearly all the prelates gathering in a hotel ballroom on the Baltimore waterfront acknowledged that something must be done to restore the faithful's trust in their leadership, passage of the protocols up for debate is by no means assured.
Early discussion Tuesday exposed some divisions over the more controversial elements of the plan, while abuse victims from across the country panned the reform package, saying it did not go far enough and did not give the Catholic faithful enough power to provide oversight.
Still, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed confidence that he and his colleagues would emerge from their four-day conference this week with a new resolve to restoring trust in a hierarchy battered by scandal.
"This week we continue a journey that will not end until there is not one instance of abuse in our Church," he said in his opening address to the conference.
This week's meeting isn't the first time the nation's prelates have sought to define rules for better policing each other: They met in the same hotel ballroom on the Baltimore waterfront in November to debate a similar package of reform measures.
But Vatican officials ultimately stymied those efforts at the last minute, barring the bishops from taking any votes out of concern that the new rules they were considering conflicted with Church law.
Calls for the prelates to implement new mechanisms to better hold themselves accountable have only become louder in the seven months since.
Prosecutors in more than 20 states and the U.S. Department of Justice have launched probes similar to the Pennsylvania grand jury investigation that kicked off this latest wave of the scandal last year. And lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have passed new laws extending the period of time in which victims can file suit against their abusers, potentially exposing dioceses there to millions of dollars in legal liability.