The Vatican blocked US bishops from enacting vital measures in response to the clergy sex abuse scandal because US church leaders only gave the Holy See a couple of days to review the plans, according to a report Tuesday.
In a Nov. 11 letter obtained by the Associated Press, Cardinal Marc Ouellet complained that the Vatican wasn’t given enough time to look over the important measures to combat abuses and cover-ups that were going to be voted on by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops at its Nov. 12-14 assembly.
The letter makes it clear that Rome blocked the bishops from taking the measures because US church leaders failed to sufficiently consult with the Holy See beforehand. The blocked vote had stunned abuse survivors and other Catholics clamoring for US bishops to address clergy sex abuse and cover-up.
“Considering the nature and scope of the documents being proposed by the (conference), I believe it would have been beneficial to have allowed for more time to consult with this and other congregations with competence over the ministry and discipline of bishops,” Ouellet wrote to the conference president, Houston’s Cardinal Daniel DiNardo.
But on Nov. 12, DiNardo still told the bishops at the assembly that “at the insistence of the Holy See,” they wouldn’t be voting on the measures after all — claiming the Vatican wanted them to wait until after Pope Francis hosts a February global summit on preventing sex abuse by priests.
Before DiNardo’s shock announcement, the goal of the conference had been to approve a code of conduct for bishops and create a lay-led commission to receive any sex abuse complaints against them.
The measures were a response to the ouster of former Washington Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, after a bombshell Pennsylvania grand jury report.
Ouellet’s letter suggests the Vatican felt like DiNardo tried to pull a fast one on the Holy See by intentionally withholding the texts until the last minute.
The Holy See has the exclusive authority to look into and punish problem bishops — so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to DiNardo that it would want to have a say in crafting the new measures.
“While fully aware that a bishops’ conference enjoys a rightful autonomy … to discuss and eventually approve measures that are within the conference’s powers, the conference’s work must always be integrated within the hierarchical structure and universal law of the church,” Ouellet wrote.
In response to the letter, DiNardo told the AP he assumed the Vatican would have a chance to review the measures after they were approved by US bishops. He insisted this wasn’t a power grab.
DiNardo also said he’d shared the “content and direction” of the proposals with multiple Vatican offices back in October.
The letter could raise questions during a spiritual retreat of US bishops that opens Wednesday in Chicago.