Latest Sexual Abuse Scandal in the Catholic Church Pits U.S. Bishops Against the Vatican

The Roman Catholic Church in the United States is reeling after the Vatican last week abruptly directed its bishops to postpone plans to increase accountability in the clergy sex abuse crisis. A chorus of Catholic critics is calling the move another cover-up of abuse by the Catholic hierarchy.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was set to vote on two measures—one on a code of conduct for bishops and another on a lay-led special commission to review complaints against them—during last week’s annual assembly in Baltimore. But during the meeting’s opening few minutes, the conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, told the bishops he had received an order from the Vatican the night before to suspend the vote.

“The Holy See has asked that we delay voting on these so that our deliberations can inform and be informed by the global meeting of the conference presidents that the Holy Father has called for February 2019,” DiNardo told the gathering. Earlier this year, Pope Francis summoned the presidents of all the bishops’ conferences around the world to the upcoming summit on sex abuse.

Accusations of abuse and cover-up have rocked the U.S. Catholic Church all year long. In July, Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., over credible allegations he groped a teenage boy in the 1970s. Soon after the pope ordered McCarrick to “a life of prayer and penance,” several former seminarians and priests said McCarrick had abused or molested them.

In August, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report from six dioceses showing 300 “predator priests” raped and molested more than 1,000 children over seven decades. The report also revealed a coordinated cover-up of the abuse by church officials, who repeatedly reassigned accused priests to new parishes. In response, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the state, the first such probe ever launched.

“We are not ourselves happy about this,” DiNardo told reporters about the delayed vote. “We are working very hard to move to action, and we’ll do it. … I think people in the church have a right to be skeptical. I think they also have a right to be hopeful.”

But American Catholics seem more fed up than hopeful.

“Your response to this crisis has been incomplete,” Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the national review board that monitors the church’s efforts to prevent clergy sex abuse, told the gathered bishops.

Some bishops agreed and resented the Vatican’s interference. “We are not branch managers of the Vatican,” said Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill. “Our people are crying out for some action.”

Vatican supporters say the delay will ensure the U.S. bishops avoid canonical mistakes. But George Weigel, a distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, didn’t accept that reasoning. He wrote for First Things that on a recent five-week trip to Rome he found “an anti-American atmosphere worse than anything I’d experienced in 30 years of work in and around the Vatican.”

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SOURCE: WORLD Magazine, Kiley Crossland