BALTIMORE — On the last day of their fall meeting, the U.S. bishops’ conference voted down a resolution that would have “encouraged” the Holy See to release all documents on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.
After about a half-hour of debate, objections that the resolution was redundant and ambiguous won out, and it was voted down by a clicker vote of 83-137, with three abstaining.
The original text of the resolution, proposed by Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Michigan, read: “Be it resolved that the bishops of the USCCB encourage the Holy Father to release all the documentation that can be released consistent with canon and civil law regarding the misconduct of Archbishop McCarrick.”
“This is not going to solve everything,” Bishop Boyea said, but it was “one little task” that all of the bishops could do.
The resolution was brought before the bishops at their Nov. 12-14 meeting in Baltimore. The bishops have focused almost exclusively on possible solutions following several months of clerical sex-abuse scandal in the Church in the United States.
In the debate of the proposal, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, pointed out that the Holy See had announced Oct. 6 that an investigation was being launched into its archives on Archbishop McCarrick.
In that statement, the Vatican said Pope Francis decided to combine the information from an ongoing McCarrick investigation in New York “with a further thorough study of the entire documentation present in the archives of the dicasteries and offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick, in order to ascertain all the relevant facts, to place them in their historical context and to evaluate them objectively.”
Pope Francis is quoted in the communiqué, saying: “We will follow the path of truth wherever it may lead.”
In light of the statement from the Holy See, Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey, proposed an amendment that the resolution affirmed what the Holy See said they would already do with the wording: “To support the Holy See’s communiqué of Oct. 6, 2018.”
The bishops have previously supported the Holy See’s investigation with an Oct. 7 statement, made by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, which said that the bishops “welcomed” the Vatican investigation into McCarrick’s files.
Bishop Boyea did not approve of wording of Bishop Checchio’s amendment because he was concerned that the Holy See would only release their findings and not all related documentation.
“The issue here is to release stuff; the issue here is the transparency,” he said. “We don’t just want conclusions.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco supported Bishop Boyea, saying that “the key here is documentation” and that the Holy See’s communiqué did not clarify what documents, if any, would be released.
Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon then proposed an alternative amendment that kept the original wording of the resolution, but would add “recognizing the investigation already underway by the Holy See.”
“I think the issue is really the transparency that our people are demanding,” he said, in support of the wording on the release of the documents.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said he objected to the ambiguity of the meaning of “release” and asked whether the proposed resolution would end up being more restrictive of the investigation than what the Holy See had originally intended.
“To release all documentation that can be released with canon and civil law? What does that mean?” he said.
“Is the Holy See’s investigation more expansive than what this statement allows for?” he added. There may be some conversations or documentation given in confidentiality that the Holy See would release, but that were restricted under canon or civil law, he noted.
Bishop Boyea responded that the resolution seemed to “rest on the word ‘encourage.’ ... Ultimately, it’s left to the decision of the Holy See,” he said.
“We’re making it clear that we want something done; they’re going to determine what it is; we’re not going to determine what it is.”
Proposing a brief amendment, Bishop Peter Christensen of Boise, Idaho, motioned to add the word “soon” in the resolution, “to make it a little more urgent.”
Bishop Boyea said he didn’t think the adding of the word would be “all that helpful,” but the amendment passed by a margin of five through a clicker vote.
After the amendment, Archbishop Cordileone supported Cardinal Cupich’s previous question and asked for further clarification about what the resolution meant by “releasing” the documents. Bishop Boyea again responded that it would ultimately be up the Holy See.
“So we’re voting on asking the Holy See to do what they already said they’re going to do? The Successor of Peter has said he’s going to be truthful about this, and it seems to me we need to take his word at it,” Cardinal Cupich said.
Another amendment to the resolution was then passed without objection, which came from Bishop David Walkowiak of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who proposed changing the wording from “misconduct” to “allegations of misconduct against McCarrick.”
Bishop Walkowiak said he wanted to make sure due process and McCarrick’s right to a defense were respected: “The important thing is that they’re alleged; they’re not proven.”
Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester, New York, then voiced his support for Cardinal Cupich’s objection to the resolution, saying it was redundant to ask the Holy See to do what it has already said it would do.
Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyoming, said he also objected to the ambiguity of the wording of the resolution: “To whom would they be released? What does it mean to release them?”
“This is a statement of distrust” of the Holy See, he added.
Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, also objected to the ambiguity of the resolution and said it was merely a way for the bishops to “appear that we’re doing something, when, in fact, we’re not.”
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, said he supported the motion. He said he thought it was respectful of the Holy Father, while also encouraging the Vatican “to move forward boldy in a way the Holy See has not been accustomed to in the past.”
Cardinal William Levada, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said he did not support the resolution because it would only further the divide between the USCCB and the Vatican. He seconded Cardinal Tobin’s suggestion that the bishops instead release a statement of support of the Vatican investigation.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, archbishop for the military services in the U.S., voiced concern that it would take the Holy See a long time to conduct the investigation, since McCarrick was a priest and bishop for many years.
Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said he didn’t think the statement added to anything that the bishops have already done.
“If anyone is listening, they hopefully realize that there is a sense of outrage and betrayal at the situation of McCarrick (among the bishops),” he said. “I don’t think that the statement adds anything to that. ... At this point, I don’t see any purpose to this proposal.”
The resolution was then put to a vote. After amendments, the final wording was: “Regarding the ongoing investigation of the Holy See into the case of Archbishop McCarrick, be it resolved that the bishops of the USCCB encourage the Holy See to release soon all documentation that can be released consistent with canon and civil law regarding the allegations of misconduct against Archbishop McCarrick.”
The resolution failed. The bishops then went on to discuss the proposed “Code of Conduct” for bishops during the second part of the afternoon session.