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September 21, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Roughly one week after meeting with Pope Francis about the U.S. Catholic Church’s clergy sex abuse crisis – and apparently having their request for the pope to intervene rebuffed – the US Bishops announced an action plan they will conduct on their own.

The USCCB’s Administrative Committee announced four new steps Wednesday that it had approved “within its authority” for the Bishops’ Conference to take in response to the abuse scandal.

The US Bishops moving forward of its own accord to investigate charges of sex abuse and cover-up surrounding now ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and also augment policies to hold bishops accountable in the abuse crisis suggests their appeal to Francis for an apostolic visitation was rejected.

That the American bishops' proposal for Rome to step in was nixed was further affirmed by Vatican watcher Rocco Palmo, who said on Twitter this “quietly signals a bigger story.” The Whispers in the Loggia blogger said as well his Vatican contacts have informed him that at last week’s papal audience, Francis had urged the U.S. bishops to cancel their upcoming November meeting, and take a week of closed retreat instead, further suggesting no apostolic visitation.

The Bishops have committed to devoting part of the Conference’s fall General Assembly, held annually in Baltimore, to addressing the abuse crisis before the full body of bishops.

The USCCB Administrative Committee’s four initiatives are as follows:

  1. Approved the establishment of a third-party reporting system that will receive confidentially, by phone and online, complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop and will direct those complaints to the appropriate ecclesiastical authority and, as required by applicable law, to civil authorities.
  2. Instructed the USCCB Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance to develop proposals for 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.
  3. Initiated the process of developing a Code of Conduct for bishops regarding the sexual abuse of a minor; sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with an adult; or negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.
  4. Supported a full investigation into the situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick, including his alleged assaults on minors, priests, and seminarians, as well any responses made to those allegations. Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services.

“This is only a beginning,” the USCCB Administrative Committee statement said. “Consultation with a broad range of concerned parents, experts, and other laity along with clergy and religious will yield additional, specific measures to be taken to repair the scandal and restore justice.” 

“We humbly welcome and are grateful for the assistance of the whole people of God in holding us accountable,” the Committee statement said. 

The September 19 announcement follows the September 13 papal audience Francis held with USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, USCCB Vice President and Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, and USCCB Secretary General Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield. 

DiNardo had asked for the meeting with Francis August 16 to request an apostolic visitation, for the purpose of investigation into accused serial predator McCarrick’s past and to establish new measures for holding bishops guilty of abuse or its cover-up accountable.

“I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action,” DiNardo said in an August 27 statement

His August 27 statement came just after the release of former U.S. nuncio Archbishop Carlo Viganò’s testimony implicating Francis and other senior prelates in covering up McCarrick’s serial sex abuse of seminarians and young priests.

In it, DiNardo “reaffirmed the call for a prompt and thorough examination into how the grave moral failings of a brother bishop could have been tolerated for so long and proven no impediment to his advancement.”

“The recent letter of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò brings particular focus and urgency to this examination,” the cardinal said, “The questions raised deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence. Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.”

Catholics continue to call for accountability at all levels of Church hierarchy in the McCarrick matter and the wider Church sex abuse scandal after months of revelations about the disgraced former cardinal and other rampant clerical sex abuse, which have further exposed the role of homosexuality in the sexual abuse crisis. 

The Viganò testimony served to bring the scandal to a new height, touching on the Church’s highest echelons.

Having papal authority, an apostolic visitation would likely oblige the bishops to cooperate and also necessitate release of pertinent Vatican documents. It ultimately should prove whether the Viganò allegations are true or false.

There was no mention of McCarrick, an investigation, or Viganò in either a USCCB statement later in the day when DiNardo and the other U.S. bishops met with Francis about McCarrick and the abuse scandal or a subsequent interview DiNardo gave to the US Bishops’ Catholic News Service.

The Vatican had no statement on the meeting either.

Instead, it released a seemingly jokey photo of the meeting between Francis and the U.S. Bishops, causing backlash from U.S. Catholics, disgusted by the appearance of humor it conveyed given the gravity of the sex abuse crisis.

The USCCB Administrative Committee urged bishops to join in acts of prayer and penance in its September 19 statement. 

“This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop,” the Committee said. “We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the Church has been sufficient.”

The Administrative Committee again affirmed communion with Francis in its statement, along with “love, obedience, and loyalty” – though mention of this was saved for the end of the statement versus it having appeared toward the beginning of earlier statements.

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