Two months ago, in September, I wrote about Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, leading a group of clergy from the United States to the Vatican. There they met with Pope Francis to discuss ways to address the church's ongoing sexual abuse scandal, which includes several archdioceses within the United States, and abroad.
Following the meeting with the pope, DiNardo said, "We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States -- how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart. It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange."
Apparently, DiNardo was deluded about that (or maybe he was hoping for support to deal with his own scandal). Either way, this week's news shows how little the Vatican, and Pope Francis, actually cares about combating the problems of sexual abuse among the clergy. Pope Francis ordered the bishops attending a conference this week to cancel their plans to vote on two measures designed to address the sex abuse crisis.
Bishops attending the US Conference of Catholic Bishops were caught by surprise when, on Monday morning, the DiNardo informed them that, "at the insistence of the Holy See, we will not be voting on the two action items."
Yes, despite DiNardo's optimism coming out of September's meeting with the pope, Francis, or perhaps someone else at the Vatican, has decided that there will not be any action taken now.
The two measures that were originally on the agenda for the bishops to vote on were, first, the establishment of guidelines for bishops to follow in any cases of sexual abuse, and second, the formation of a lay commission that would be involved in the investigation of bishop misconduct.
Both of those ideas seem like not only a good start, but far from drastic measures. With the number of states conducting "lay investigations" into the church already, this almost seems like a natural progression.
Many of the bishops in attendance were shocked, disappointed, or frustrated by the announcement... with one notable exception.
Mere moments after DiNardo made the announcement, the Vatican's ambassador to the US, the French Archbishop Cristophe Pierre, made some very deliberate remarks. He made it clear that the church did not want outsiders involved in the investigations. “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.”
So, in other words, no lay commission. Not now, and not ever if the Vatican can keep it that way.
So much for DiNardo's "fruitful" meeting with the pope. Commenting on this latest development, Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, said, “What we see here is the Vatican again trying to suppress even modest progress by the U.S. bishops. We’re seeing where the problem lies, which is with the Vatican."
DiNardo and some of the other bishops tried to point out that the Vatican may have delayed the vote in order to keep the bishops of the US from creating rules and procedures too different from what may be enacted by the church elsewhere.
“We are Roman Catholic bishops, in communion with our Holy Father in Rome. And he has people around him who are what we call congregations or offices, and we’re responsible to them, in that communion of faith,” DiNardo said.
It could be that they want a uniform approach to handling the problem in the church worldwide, but at this point I think that is giving the pope and the other church leaders at the Vatican far too much credit. Just a couple of weeks after meeting with DiNardo, Francis remarked on how it was unfair to hold the church to modern standards when considering their cover-up of sex abuse, AND he blamed the current abuse scandals on Satan's war against the church.
Does that really sound like someone who is ready to own up to their mistakes and correct them?