The Vatican’s decision this week to interrupt the vote on new sex abuse protocols confounded bishops and parishioners all over the United States. America’s Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell has some ideas about the reasons behind the controversial, 11th-hour intervention from Rome at the U.S. bishops’ November meeting. The tardiness of the U.S. bishops in delivering their proposals to the Vatican in the first place probably contributed to the decision, he says.
The Holy See does not respond well to time constraints and, according to Italian media reports, did not receive the proposals on accountability for bishops until just days before the meeting was scheduled to begin. “If you don't give people time enough to study the proposal, this is a problem,” said Mr. O’Connell, discussing the controversy on America Media’s “Inside the Vatican” podcast.
“It’s difficult to understand why it took them so long to come up with their final proposals and why it took them so long to send them to Rome,” he added.
Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell has some ideas about the reasons behind the controversial, 11th-hour intervention from Rome at the U.S. bishops’ November meeting.
The Vatican may also feel it best to hear from other bishops’ conferences around the world, which will also soon be deliberating on the issue, rather than accepting and implicitly endorsing whatever proposals emerged from among U.S. bishops this month, according to Mr. O’Connell. Vatican officials explained that they wished to wait on the outcome of an unprecedented meeting in February that will bring the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences to Rome to discuss the abuse crisis, he added.
“I think what the Vatican really didn’t want was some country to have decided, ‘This is the way to go,’ and coming [to the meeting in February] with a kind of decision already made without readiness to listen to other parts of the world,” he said.
“They didn’t say, ‘Don’t discuss it.’ They didn’t say, ‘Don’t take straw votes.’” The instruction from Rome was simply “that they should not formally vote, in other words, bind the conference on a position.”
This would allow U.S.C.C.B. president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo to remain open to new ideas he might hear in February and then adapt the U.S. proposals on protocol that would, among other things, govern bishops’ accountability and lay review of allegations against bishops.
“The abuse question is undermining the ability of the church to preach the Gospel, to reach out to people. It’s undermining the credibility of the church.”
“Once Cardinal DiNardo comes to Rome and sits with the other presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world...he may well see, ‘Well, maybe that’s an aspect we hadn’t thought of,’” Mr. O’Connell said. “And so I think that if he comes with knowing the mind of the conference...but without having signed, sealed and delivered the protocol for the way ahead...maybe you find that he’s in a better position when he goes back to lead the conference in its decision-making.”
Suggestions that the Vatican’s intervention and an apparent disregard about how it might be perceived in the United States among a Catholic audience exhausted by the abuse scandals misread the circumstances, Mr. O’Connell said. Dealing with the sex abuse crisis is “an urgent issue in many countries, not just the United States,” he said.
“The pope has this on his front burner. He realizes this is the priority issue,” he said, adding that Pope Francis understands that “the abuse question is undermining the ability of the church to preach the Gospel, to reach out to people. It’s undermining the credibility of the church.”
“And that’s also why [on Nov. 13] he has brought in the church's top expert on the abuse question, Archbishop [Charles] Scicluna from Malta, and now appointed him to a joint number two position in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, giving him, people say here, enormous authority and ability to lead preparation for the February meeting but also to lead the church’s efforts to combat the abuse.”
Mr. O’Connell suggests that the Vatican is also concerned that a too-hasty response to the summer’s U.S. scandals by U.S. bishops eager to show they have done something on the abuse problem and their own lack of accountability may, in the end, backfire on the global church.
“It’s important not to rush,” he said. “If you remember when the American cardinals came to Rome, called by John Paul II in 2002 at the height of Boston’s scandal...there was a lot of rushing at the end to try and get a final agreement.” But “these are important decisions, and it’s important not to get them wrong.”
“It’s clear now that the Dallas Charter was deficient,” Mr. O’Connell said. “It dealt with priests. It didn’t deal with the bishops. If they’d spent a little more time, maybe they would have reflected more fully on this.”