Featured Image
U.S. bishops at the 2018 General Assembly in Baltimore, MD. Lisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews

BALTIMORE, Maryland, November 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The Vatican has directed the United States bishops to hold off on voting on two measures during their currently-running Baltimore meeting that aim to address the sexual abuse crisis in the U.S. Church.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo informed the bishops of the request at the opening of the USCCB Fall General Assembly Monday in Baltimore. The meeting has been highly anticipated with the bishops’ plan to address the latest developments in the sex abuse scandal as a full body for the first time since the early days of the crisis in 2002.  

“At the insistence of the Holy See we will not be voting on the two actions items in our documentation regarding the abuse crisis,” DiNardo said. “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.

Pope Francis had summoned the presidents of all of the Catholic Church’s national bishops' conferences in September to talk about the abuse crisis.

DiNardo apologized for the last minute change for the meeting, explaining that he himself only learned late Sunday of the Holy See request. 

“I’m sorry for the late notice,” he said pointedly, “but in fact this was conveyed to me late yesterday afternoon.” 

DiNardo as USCCB president had committed in August to the Conference addressing the abuse scandal, part of which included a request for the Vatican to intervene since bishops canonically cannot sanction or reprimand each other. After USCCB leadership’s request for an apostolic visitation was rebuffed, the Conference’s Administrative Committee released an action plan in September for investigating the Archbishop McCarrick abuse allegations and to augment bishop accountability. 

News of the Vatican’s eleventh-hour curveball to the US Bishops met swiftly with negative reaction on social media from Catholics.

“The Vatican has pulled the rug out from under an already reeling episcopacy in the US with this demand that they not vote on even a toothless Code of Conduct for Bishops,” EWTN News Managing Editor Raymond Arroyo said. “Now they are starting a day of prayer. “We'll need it!” One bishop wrote me.”

First Things Editor Matthew Schmitz invoked the final document of the recently concluded Youth Synod, which contained the inserted concept of synodality – generally a decentralization of the Church and its magisterium away from the papacy to local churches – though it had not been widely discussed at the Synod gathering

“Synodality” is not a workable principle for the Catholic Church in the twenty-first century,” Schmitz tweeted. “Not even its advocates are able to put it into practice.”

Canonist Ed Peters pointed out that despite the Holy See’s move, bishops could individually propose provisions for dealing with the sexual abuse crisis and other bishops were free to follow them.

“While Rome has (needlessly but not illegally per Canon 455) forbidden US bishops from adopting NATIONAL standards for episcopal accountability,” Peters stated, “nothing prevents individual bishops from presenting PERSONAL provisions for same, whereupon other bishops might choose to copy them.”

“I am hoping the US bishops are fed up with Vatican interference in their work,” noted theologian Janet Smith said on Facebook. “And I hope they remember that they are the stewards of their own diocese and don't need permission of the USCCB or the Vatican to do what they are supposed to do — provide a moral and faithful priesthood to their flock.”

DiNardo continued to the gathering of bishops, “Although I am disappointed that we will not be taking these actions tomorrow in terms of a vote, I remain hopeful that this additional consultation will ultimately improve our response to the crisis we face.”

The last-minute direction from the Vatican to delay voting on the sex abuse agenda items left the Galveston-Houston’s cardinal archbishop explaining that a revised agenda for the bishops' meeting would be forthcoming the following day, as the bishops were set to convene for the remainder of Monday for a day of prayer focused on the abuse crisis.

The last-minute change was the latest for the bishops’ assembly, with the day of prayer preceding the business part of their meeting, and the bishops’ Mass moved from the Baltimore Basilica to on-site at the hotel where the meeting was being held.

“Brothers, I am sure that you have concerns about this latest development, as I do myself,” DiNardo said of the Holy See’s direction. 

Rather than addressing those concerns at the moment, DiNardo called for them to be taken to prayer, to ensure that the Holy Spirit would be present in the discussions going forward in the meeting.

Chicago Cardinal Blasé Cupich spoke from the floor as DiNardo made the announcement, another departure from normal process, to recommend the Conference continue to scheduled discussions on the two items. Cupich also suggested that given the urgency of the matter, the bishops not leave further discussion for the next General Assembly in June, and rather call a special session in March.

This would be a logistic headache, Cupich said, “But it is something that we cannot delay, there’s an urgency here.”

The agenda items that were kyboshed were Standards of Episcopal Conduct and establishment of a Special Commission for Review of Complaints Against Bishops for Violations of those episcopal standards. 

Catholic continue to express anger and issue calls for accountability in the Church’s sexual abuse scandal months after allegations emerged in June that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had abused at least two minors and preyed upon seminarians and young priests for years, and the August release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report details seven decades of abuse in six of that state’s eight dioceses. 

Attorney’s general in all 50 states have begun investigating the handling of sexual abuse allegations in dioceses under their purview.

The US Bishops meeting continues through Wednesday. A coalition of Catholic lay groups plans an alternate prayer and protest rally adjacent to the bishops’ meeting site Tuesday and Wednesday.

Note: Follow LifeSite's new Catholic twitter account to stay up to date on all Church-related news. Click here: @LSNCatholic