BALTIMORE — The last thing the U.S. bishops needed at their annual general assembly in Baltimore this week was non-action on the issue of clergy sexual abuse. After a nightmare summer — which saw the removal of former-cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick from ministry due to credible allegations of the sexual abuse of a minor, the release of a devastating grand jury report in Pennsylvania, and the back-and-forth of public statements by high profile individuals within the Church on what may or may not have been known by the Holy See about allegations of abuse — the stakes were already high, with the eyes of the country waiting to see how they would respond. For many, the November meeting was long-coming, and the national media was out in full force to cover the bishops’ response to the past several months, including and especially how they would address accountability specifically of episcopal conduct.
Most unfortunately for the Church, it seems that non-action is what will take place. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced right after morning prayer that the highly anticipated votes scheduled for Tuesday — the approval of the Standards of Episcopal Conduct and the proposal to establish a special review commission for complaints against bishops said to have violated these standards — would not be held. The request of the postponement of the votes, he said, came at the “insistence of the Holy See” in order that “our deliberations can inform and be informed by” the global meeting of presidents of bishops’ conferences on the clergy abuse crisis scheduled for Feb. 21-24 in Rome.
“Although I am disappointed that we will not be taking these actions tomorrow in terms of vote, I remain hopeful that this additional consultation will ultimately improve our response to the crisis we face,” Cardinal DiNardo said.
Pope Francis called the February meeting in September as a way for Church leaders around the world to respond to the crisis, and further prevent clergy abuse and protect children.
As the room took in the surprise announcement, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago quickly took the microphone, recommending that the assembly continue its scheduled discussion and take a non-binding vote to bring to the February meeting.
“As you are our representative going to that meeting, we need to be very clear with you where we stand, and we need to tell our people where we stand,” Cardinal Cupich said to Cardinal DiNardo.
Cardinal Cupich also recommended that the bishops gather for a special session in March, ahead of the regularly scheduled June assembly, to deal with the issue of abuse. “We need as a conference, as brother bishops, to take up this issue for the good of the church in this country without delay,” he said. “There is an urgency here.”
Cardinal DiNardo responded that they would consider that recommendation on Tuesday, and directed that the bishops continue with their day of prayer before continuing discussion on the matter.
Following addresses by Cardinal DiNardo (read here) and Archbishop Christophe Pierre (read PDF here), apostolic nuncio to the United States, bishops adjourned for the day to contemplate the developments of the morning in front of the Blessed Sacrament.