Many bishops see urgent reform as the only way to save the church in light of repeated scandals involving sexual abuse by priests. The agenda at the Bishops bi annual conference held in Baltimore on November 12th 2018, included proposals for a code of conduct for bishops and a lay panel to investigate claims of misconduct or negligence by bishops. These were the proposals.

  • A full investigation into how bishops allowed McCarrick to be promoted
  • Archbishop Carlo Viganò’s claims of a homosexual network acting within the hierarchy
  • Opening of confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops

Under canon law, only the Pope can hold bishops accountable and this proposal was apparently perceived as a threat by Francis who intervened to delay the vote.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, appeared bemused as he announced that the Holy See had insisted at the 11th hour that the bishops should not vote on their own proposals. Instead they must wait until after February when Pope Francis meets at the Vatican with the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world. Skeptics view this as a further means of delaying long needed action.

The announcement seemed to shock almost everyone in the room, with the notable exception of Cardinal Cupich of Chicago,one of the Pope’s closest allies in the United States, who was first to respond saying that  that “it is clear the the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously.”  The announcement raises questions about how the decision was made and the role played by the two American Cardinals, Blase Cupich and Donald Wuerl. Cupich appeared prepared and a Washington source stated that Wuerl had advance notice of the decision from Rome. Both cardinals will no doubt face questions from  their American peers.

Many bishops attending the conference are justifiably angry at what they consider an attempt to stop them debating the sexual abuse crisis and a further example of the popes’ increasingly dictatorial and controlling style. The scandals related to the role of numerous bishops in the systemic cover up of child sexual abuse by priests is now viewed as the key factor in enabling predator priests to remain undetected. 

This further intervention by Pope Francis can only fuel  frustration, regarding reports  into the conduct of Cardinal McCarrick and the role of his superiors, in covering up his abuse. An earlier letter by Cardinal Viagno  implicated Pope Francis himself, affirming that he had removed sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict, following which Francis appointed McCarrick Cardinal. (See Covering up the Cover Up)  The ‘open secret’ of McCarricks predatory sexual abuse of seminarians and homosexual liaisons with young priests culminated in 2018, with an allegation by a former altar boy that McCarric had sexually abused him from the age of 13, the abuse continuing over many years. The allegation was found ‘credible’ and McCarrick resigned in July 2018. He was sentenced  by Pope Francis to serve a life of prayer and repentance in a Capuchin friary.  The current investigation into how McCarrick managed to rise in the Vatican ranks despite persistant reports of abuse  brings a wry smile to the lips.

Comments from activists protesting at the bishop’s conference on behalf of survivors were telling. Terence McKiernan and Anne Barrett Doyle, co-directors of BishopsAccoutability.org  describing the move by Francis as a “preemptive strike” by the Vatican against U.S. bishops as they seek to respond to the current crisis of sexual abuse and its cover-up stating  “when the Vatican intervenes, it’s a signal that progress will be less than we hoped. ”Peter Isley, a survivor of clerical sexual abuse who now works with the organization Ending Clergy Abuse, said that the decision from the Vatican effectively means, “We care more about our organisation and our princely titles and positions than enacting measures of accountability.” David Clohessy, the ex-national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) “On one hand it’s disappointing that Vatican officials continue to feel no urgency about this crisis,”…“On the other hand, new policies that bishops are proposing are largely meaningless,”

It is now unquestioned that abusive priests have long been protected  by a hierarchical network of bishops and Vatican officials who turned their backs upon survivors who  disclosed sexual abuse by clergy. The bishops are now left to convince their congregations of their sincerity and desire to take action against predator priests  and those who enable them. It must be hoped that some bishops will find the same courage shown by survivors to confront the Vatican. 

#Letters to Priests

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