Why did Rome stop the US bishops’ vote?

The Vatican’s decision to interrupt the vote on new sex abuse protocols confounded bishops and parishioners all over the United States.

Nov 21, 2018

By Gerard O’Connell
The Vatican’s decision to interrupt the vote on new sex abuse protocols confounded bishops and parishioners all over the United States. The tardiness of the US bishops in delivering their proposals to the Vatican, in the first place, probably contributed to the decision.

The Holy See does not respond well to time constraints and, according to Italian media reports, did not receive the proposals on accountability for bishops until just days before the meeting was scheduled to begin. If you don’t give people time enough to study the proposal, this is a problem.

It’s difficult to understand why it took them so long to come up with their final proposals and why it took them so long to send them to Rome.

The Vatican may also feel it best to hear from other bishops’ conferences around the world, which will also soon be deliberating on the issue, rather than accepting and implicitly endorsing whatever proposals emerged from among US bishops this month. Vatican officials explained that they wished to wait on the outcome of an unprecedented meeting in February that will bring the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences to Rome to discuss the abuse crisis.

What the Vatican really didn’t want was some country to have decided ‘This is the way to go,’ and coming [to the meeting in February] with a kind of decision already made without readiness to listen to other parts of the world.

The instruction from Rome was simply “that they should not formally vote, in other words, bind the conference on a position.”

This would allow the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, to remain open to new ideas he might hear in February and then adapt the US proposals on protocol that would, among other things, govern bishops’ accountability and lay review of allegations against bishops.

Once Cardinal DiNardo goes to Rome and sits with the other presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world...he may well say, ‘Well, maybe that’s an aspect we hadn’t thought of.’ If he goes with knowing the mind of the conference...but without having signed, sealed and delivered the protocol for the way ahead...then he may find that he’s in a better position to lead the conference in its decision-making when he returns from Rome.

Suggestions that the Vatican’s intervention and an apparent disregard about how it might be perceived in the United States among a Catholic audience exhausted by the abuse scandals misread the circumstances. Dealing with the sex abuse crisis is an urgent issue in many countries, not just the United States.

The Pope has this on his front burner. He realises this is the priority issue. The abuse question is undermining the ability of the Church to preach the Gospel, to reach out to people. It’s undermining the credibility of the Church.

And that’s also why on Nov 13 he has brought in the Church’s top expert on the abuse question, Archbishop Charles Scicluna from Malta, and now appointed him to a joint number two position in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, giving him enormous authority and ability to lead preparation for the February meeting but also to lead the Church’s efforts to combat the abuse.

The Vatican is also concerned that a too-hasty response to the summer’s US scandals by US bishops eager to show they have done something on the abuse problem and their own lack of accountability may, in the end, backfire on the global Church.

It’s important not to rush. If you remember when the American cardinals came to Rome, called by John Paul II in 2002 at the height of Boston’s scandal...there was a lot of rushing at the end to try and get a final agreement.

It’s clear now that the Dallas Charter was deficient. It dealt with priests. It didn’t deal with the bishops. If they’d spent a little more time, maybe they would have reflected more fully on this. --America Magazine

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