US Bishops Meet to Address Abuse Crisis; Vatican Delays Vote on New Guidelines

Bishops of the US gather for their annual fall meeting on Nov. 12, 2018, in Baltimore. (RNS/AP/Patrick Semansky)
Bishops of the US gather for their annual fall meeting on Nov. 12, 2018, in Baltimore. (RNS/AP/Patrick Semansky)

by Mathieu Ronayne


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) gathered for their annual General Assembly on November 12-14 in Baltimore, Maryland. In an October 30 press release, they announced their expectations for the Assembly discussion, and anticipated a vote on “a series of concrete measures to respond to the abuse crisis.” They said they would also vote on the Pastoral Letter Against Racism (a report after the recent Synod on Youth) as well as the cause for canonization for Sr. Thea Bowman, FSPA.

In the wake of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misconduct, and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on extensive clerical sex abuse and cover-up in many archdioceses, the proposed measures in response to the crisis were the most anticipated aspect of this General Assembly. According to the USCCB, such possible measures included a “third-party reporting mechanism, standards of conduct for bishops, and protocols for bishops resigned or removed because of abuse.”


However, a last-minute directive from the Congregation of the Bishops in Rome prevented the Assembly from voting on such proposals. According to the National Catholic Register, “[Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the USCCB,] was told the Holy See wanted to delay votes on such measures until the conclusion of the February 2019 meeting in Rome that Francis has called to address the global clergy-abuse crisis.” The directive shocked many bishops and laypeople alike.


Reactions among clergy varied. According to First Things, “A few bishops hinted that they would be ready to vote on the top agenda items despite the Vatican’s instructions.”


Bishop George Thomas of Las Vegas spoke of interactions he had with those who are “rightfully” angry, and he stated, “The perception is that justice delayed is justice denied.”


Alternatively, Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago supported the decision, claiming it reveals “how seriously the Holy See takes the matter.”


Dissatisfaction was evident among many lay people. “The faithful and the clergy do not trust many of you,” said Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board. “They are angry and frustrated, no longer satisfied with words and even with prayer.”


Protestors gathered outside the meeting with signs. Protesters organized the “Silence Stops Now” rally nearby. Among the speakers was James Grein, who publicly accused McCarrick of abusing him when Grein was a teenager.


Although voting on proposals did not take place, Cardinal DiNardo attempted two movements within the bounds of the Assembly’s action. First, he announced the creation of a task force which, according to Eternal Word Television News, “will work closely with the committees of the conference to examine instances of abuse and mishandling of abuse cases, and their work will culminate in a report presented at the next bishops’ meeting in June.”


Next, the bishops voted on a resolution “encouraging” the Vatican to release “documentation . . . regarding the misconduct of Archbishop McCarrick.” Due to concerns ranging from dissatisfaction with the resolution’s wording to the belief that such a resolution disrespected the Holy See, it was voted down by a tally of 137-83, with 3 abstentions.


Comparatively less focus was placed on the Assembly’s other agenda items. The Pastoral Vote Against Racism was supported by a vote of 243-3, with 1 abstention. The cause of canonization for Sr. Thea Bowman, FSPA, was supported by a voice vote.


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