BALTIMORE — Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, has told the American bishops that they will not vote on two key proposals that 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, Cardinal DiNardo told a visibly surprised conference hall.
Cardinal 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 sex-abuse crisis.
Apologizing for the last-minute change to the conference’s schedule, he said he 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 that have rocked the Church in the United States over recent months.
Speaking before the conference session had even been called to order, Cardinal 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.
While Cardinal DiNardo was still speaking, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago intervened from the floor, expressing his support for the Pope.
“It is clear the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously,” Cardinal Cupich said.
At the same time, he suggested that the work that had gone into preparing the two proposals should not go to waste.
Cardinal Cupich suggested that if the conference could not take a binding vote, they should instead continue with their discussions and conclude with resolution ballots on the two measures. This, he said, would help best equip Cardinal DiNardo to present the thoughts of the American bishops during the February meeting, where he will represent the U.S. bishops’ conference.
“We need to be very clear with [Cardinal DiNardo] where we stand and be clear with our people where we stand,” Cardinal Cupich said.
While acknowledging that the February meeting was important, he noted that responding to the abuse crisis “is something we cannot delay — there is an urgency here.”
Cardinal Cupich went on to propose moving forward the American bishops’ next meeting, currently scheduled for June 2019. Instead, he suggested, the bishops should reconvene in March in order to act as soon as possible after the February session in Rome.
Ed Condon is the Washington editor for Catholic News Agency.