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Vatican Bars Action by US Bishops on Sex-Abuse Reforms at Conference

Tuesday 13 November 2018, by siawi3


Acts of Faith
Vatican tells U.S. bishops not to vote on proposals to tackle sexual abuse, spurns lay investigations

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting opens in Baltimore on Monday morning with surprising direction from the Vatican. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

By Julie Zauzmer and Michelle Boorstein

November 12 at 1:41 PM

BALTIMORE — The Vatican blocked a plan by America’s Catholic leaders to confront sexual abuse, ordering in a surprising directive on Monday morning that America’s bishops halt their effort to hold bishops more responsible in the abuse cases that have scourged the church.

At the same time, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States suggested that bishops should not be held accountable by lay people in the church, and should not look to law enforcement to confront the church’s sexual abuse crisis.

Thus the bishops of America’s 196 Catholic dioceses and archdioceses were left scrambling on Monday morning, as they learned just as they began their first annual meeting since the abuse crisis re-emerged this summer that the church’s leaders wanted them to drop all the votes on their agenda. In an unusual move, the bishops had devoted the meeting almost exclusively to the crisis beginning with a period of prayer today.

Moments after the the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops learned of the letter instructing them not to act on their own, Archbishop Christopher Pierre, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, warned of supporting outside lay investigations into the church. He seemed to refer obliquely to both the bishops’ now-tabled proposal to establish a lay commission capable of investigating bishops’ misconduct, and also the more than a dozen U.S. states’ ongoing criminal and civil investigations into crimes committed by priests.

“There may be a temptation on the part of some to relinquish responsibility for reform to others from ourselves, as if we were no longer capable of reforming or trusting ourselves,” Pierre said. “Assistance is both welcome and necessary, and surely collaboration with the laity is essential. However, the responsibility as bishops of this Catholic Church is ours."

Pierre, a French bishop sent by Pope Francis to Washington in 2016, quoted a French author who said that “whoever pretends to reform the church with the same means to reform temporal society” will “fail.”

The bishops had planned to vote in a code of conduct, the first ethical guidelines for bishops, and to create the lay commission. Instead, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo — the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference — told the group that the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops wants American bishops to take no action until a worldwide meeting of church leaders in February.

“At the insistence of the Holy See, we will not be voting on the two action items,” DiNardo said. He said he was “disappointed” by the pope’s directive.

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of, called the last-minute order from the Vatican “truly incredible.”

“What we see here is the Vatican again trying to suppress even modest progress by the U.S. bishops,” said Doyle, whose group compiles data on clergy abuse in the church. “We’re seeing where the problem lies, which is with the Vatican. The outcome of this meeting, at best, was going to be tepid and ineffectual, but now it’s actually going to be completely without substance."

Becky Ianni, the D.C. regional head for SNAP — the most established survivor advocacy group — said that she was frustrated by the surprise announcement. “To me, this is not rocket science. Someone covers up abuse of a child, they’re gone. Seems very simple to me,” she said. “We’re dealing [in the U.S.] with the crisis, right here, right now. Yes, it’s a global problem, and they need to discuss it there, but the U.S. needs to come up with something right now.”

DiNardo said that the U.S. bishops remain committed to the proposals they had planned.

“Brother bishops, to exempt ourselves from this high standard of accountability is unacceptable and cannot stand,” DiNardo said, striking a markedly different tone just after the ambassador spoke. “Whether we will be regarded as guardians of the abused or the abuser will be determined by our actions.”

Then the bishops adjourned for their planned day of prayer — which was supposed to precede two days of debate and voting on concrete proposals — leaving stunned abuse survivors and church insiders to discuss what had just happened.

The only bishop who spoke during the morning’s brief session after the announcement was Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who proposed an alternative to the Vatican’s request that no vote be taken on any of the planned proposals. Cupich suggested a nonbinding vote at this session, followed by an additional meeting of all the bishops in March — after Francis’s worldwide meeting — to formally vote on these policies as soon as possible.