Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference has told the American bishops that they will not vote on two key proposals which had been expected to form the basis for the Church’s response to the sexual abuse crisis.
The news came at the beginning of the U.S. bishops’ conference fall general assembly, meeting in Baltimore Nov. 12-14.
The instruction to delay consideration of a new code of conduct for bishops and the creation of a lay-led body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct came directly from the Holy See, DiNardo told a visibly surprised conference hall.
DiNardo said that the Holy See insisted that consideration of the new measures be delayed until the conclusion of a special meeting called by Pope Francis for February. That meeting, which will include the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, will address the global sexual abuse crisis.
Apologizing for the last minute change to the conference’s schedule, he said had only been told of the decision by Rome late yesterday.
Ahead of the bishops’ meeting, two documents had been circulated: a draft Standards of Conduct for bishops and a proposal to create a new special investigative commission to handle accusations made against bishops.
These proposals had been considered to be the bishops’ best chance to produce a substantive result during the meeting, and signal to the American faithful that they were taking firm action in the face of a series of scandals which have rocked the Church in the United States over recent months.
Speaking before the conference session had even been called to order, DiNardo told the bishops he was clearly “disappointed” with Rome’s decision. The cardinal said that, despite the unexpected intervention by Rome, he was hopeful that the Vatican meeting would prove fruitful and that its deliberations would help improve the American bishops’ eventual measures.
Judging from early reaction on social media, this is not going to go down as one of the greatest moments in the history of the U.S. Church. At a moment when so many in the Church are angry, fed up, stressed out, disgusted and otherwise ready to bolt, you could not ask for a worse idea. This is a PR disaster. Fasten your seatbelts.UPDATE: Some early reaction to the news…
From theologian Janet Smith: “I am hoping the US bishops are fed up with Vatican interference in their work. 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.”
From canon lawyer Ed Peters: While Rome has (needlessly but not illegally per Canon 455) forbidden US bishops from adopting NATIONAL standards for episcopal accountability, nothing prevents individual bishops from presenting PERSONAL provisions for same, whereupon other bishops might choose to copy them.
From EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo: 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. Now they are starting a day of prayer. “We’ll need it!” One bishop wrote me.
From Bishop Rick Stika: Many bishops are disappointed by the Holy See’s postponement of the Code of Conduct for Bishops discussion and vote until after the Holy Father meets with all the Presidents of Conferences throughout the world in February.
From Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter: What is going on? People were whispering that the pope should not have intervened, certainly not at such a late date. Is this a case of Rome not grasping the situation in the U.S. or, more worrisome, that Rome still doesn’t grasp the enormity of the sex abuse mess? Obviously, the surprise evidenced by DiNardo shows the lack of healthy and regular communication between the leadership of the conference and the pope. Was Cupich trying to put lipstick on a pig? What is really at work here?