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Leaked Vatican letter sheds light on US bishops delaying vote on abuse reform measures

Dorothy Cummings McLean Dorothy Cummings McLean Follow Dorothy

NEW YORK, January 2, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – A letter from the Vatican to a U.S. cardinal who heads the country’s bishops’ conference reveals more detail about why the bishops delayed voting on two measures during their General Assembly in November that were aimed at addressing the sexual abuse crisis in the American Church. 

The Nov. 11 letter from Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, to USCCB president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo was leaked to Associated Press (AP). 

Whereas mainstream media is using the document to discredit Cardinal DiNardo, American Catholic media outlets are presenting the document as evidence that the Vatican needed more time to consider American proposals to address disciplinary measures for sexually abusive bishops.  

On January 1, Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press (AP) published a story stating that her company had obtained the letter Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, wrote to Cardinal DiNardo on November 11, asking that the American bishops not vote on proposals to address sexual misconduct by fellow bishops. 

Quoting the letter only in part, AP stated that the letter “undermines” DiNardo’s announcement to the USCCB at the beginning of their November 12 meeting where he suggested that the Holy See was to blame for putting off the vote.

“Ouellet’s letter undermines the version of events provided by the conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo,” AP stated. “It could also provide fodder for questions during a spiritual retreat of U.S. bishops, dedicated to the abuse crisis, that opens Wednesday in Chicago,” it continued. 

“They may want to know why, as Ouellet noted in the letter, the draft proposals only arrived at the Vatican on Nov. 8, four days before the U.S. bishops’ meeting began. While the Vatican is known for its slow pace, even the speediest bureaucracy would have found it difficult to review and sign off on sensitive legal documents in that time.” 

AP said that a November 6 letter (not released) from Ouellet to DiNardo also advised the USCCB not to vote on the issue. AP also said that the November 11 letter suggested the Vatican thought the American cardinal was trying to “pull a fast one” by submitting the documents late.  

“While DiNardo blamed the Vatican, the letter from Ouellet suggests that the Vatican thought DiNardo had tried to pull a fast one by intentionally withholding legally problematic texts until the last minute,” AP wrote. 

DiNardo’s original Nov. 12 statement to his fellow bishops at the fall meeting, recorded on video, was as follows: 

“At the insistence of the Holy See we will not be voting on the two actions items in our documentation regarding the abuse crisis.  That is the standards of accountability for bishops and the special commission for receiving complaints against bishops.”

“The Holy See has asked that we delay voting on these so that our deliberations can inform and be informed by the global meeting of the conference presidents that the Holy Father has called for February 2019,” he continued.

“I’m sorry for the late notice, but in fact this was conveyed to me late yesterday afternoon [November 11].” 

The headline given the AP article was “AP Exclusive: Vatican letter undermines US cardinal on abuse.”  

Other mainstream media outlets, including ABC News and the New York Post have similar headlines, presenting the AP story as a discredit to the cardinal.  

The USCCB-owned Catholic News Service (CNS), however, has represented the story as a further indication that the Vatican wanted more time to evaluate the American proposals. 

“The letter … says that proposals which had been scheduled for a vote by the bishops’ conference needed more time and discussion to ‘properly mature’,” wrote CNS’s Cindy Wooden in a Jan. 2 article. “Ouellet indicated that the Vatican congregation had numerous canonical objections to the proposals.”

EWTN’s Catholic News Agency is also presenting the story as illustrative of Ouellet’s central theme that the Vatican had not had enough time to consider the proposals, and not as a discredit to Di Nardo. 

Speaking to AP, Di Nardo indicated that he had shared the “content and direction” of proposals to deal with episcopal sexual abuse with several Vatican dicasteries in October and, after encountering “no opposition”, drafted a final text. 

“We had not planned, nor had the Holy See made a request, to share the texts prior to the body of bishops having had an opportunity to amend them,” he told AP.

During the November 12 press conference, the president of the USCCB had said that the proposals were finalized on October 30.

Now DiNardo has made another statement concerning the Vatican’s objections to the USCCB’s proposals

“It is now clear there were different expectations on the bishops conference’s part and Rome’s part that may have affected the understanding of these proposals,” he said. 

“From our perspective, they were designed to stop short of where the authority of the Holy See began,” the cardinal continued. 

After reading the AP report, various Catholic pundits took to Twitter to communicate their opinions of DiNardo and the leaked letter. 

“How could the cardinal president of the US bishops believe that the letter of the prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops about the Baltimore pastiche would not surface at some point?” asked Villanova University theology professor Massimo Faggioli

EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo took a more charitable view and tweeted:  “Someone is trying to damage the US Bishops efforts to respond to the sex abuse crisis by leaking this letter.”

“Disunity and PR battles among the hierarchy will not solve this crisis,” he continued. “Action is required, not finger pointing.

In August 2018, after revelations that then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct, Cardinal DiNardo requested a meeting with Pope Francis to discuss the scandal. In both September and October, DiNardo and vice-president of the USCCB Bishop Gomez met with the pontiff in Vatican City. 

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