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By quashing the American Catholic bishops’ bid for an independent investigation into the burgeoning sex-abuse scandal, the Vatican has left the US hierarchy in an impossible position. The bishops cannot ease the anger of an enraged laity without appearing disloyal to Rome; they cannot maintain unity among themselves without further alienating their flocks; they cannot restore their own credibility without damaging the credibility of the Holy See.
The November meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was expected to bring decisive action, after a painful summer of new revelations about the negligence—and worse—of many American bishops. The most prominent items on the meeting’s agenda were the proposal for a thorough investigation, controlled by laypeople, and a companion call for a code of conduct to which bishops might be held accountable. But on the eve of the meeting, the Vatican issued instructions that the American bishops should not take action on those two proposals.
Cardinal - Daniel - DiNardo - USCCB - President
When Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the USCCB president, announced the Vatican’s decision, there were audible gasps from the body of bishops. Cardinal DiNardo said that he himself was surprised and disappointed by the Vatican’s instruction, which had been conveyed to him only the previous evening. The shocking message from Rome deflated the sense of urgency that had surrounded the meeting, and before the meeting adjourned on Wednesday, the bishops—who had arrived in Baltimore in a feisty mood, ready for action—actually voted down an innocuous resolution to “encourage” a thorough disclosure by the Vatican of documents pertaining to the scandalous career of the disgraced former cardinal, Theodore McCarrick.
There were dramatic moments at the USCCB meeting, to be sure. A few bishops hinted that they would be ready to vote on the top agenda items despite the Vatican’s instructions. The lay leader of the bishops’ National Review Board, Francesco Cesareo,...
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