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AP Exclusive: Vatican letter undermines US cardinal on abuse [In-Depth]
Pope Francis leaves after celebrating a new year Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. Francis celebrated Mass Tuesday in St. Peter's Basilica to formally open 2019. In his homily Francis urged Catholics to allow themselves to be led again as children are led by their mothers. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican blocked U.S. bishops from taking measures to address the clergy sex abuse scandal because U.S. church leaders didn’t discuss the legally problematic proposals with the Holy See enough beforehand, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
The Nov. 11 letter from the Vatican’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet provides the primary reason that Rome balked at the measures that were to be voted on by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at its Nov. 12-14 assembly. The blocked vote stunned abuse survivors and other Catholics who were demanding action from U.S. bishops to address clergy sex abuse and cover-up.
Ouellet’s letter undermines the version of events provided by the conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. It could also provide fodder for questions this week during a spiritual retreat of U.S. bishops, dedicated to the abuse crisis, that opens Wednesday in Chicago.
They may want to know why the draft proposals from the U.S. only arrived at the Vatican on Nov. 8, four days before the U.S. bishops’ meeting began. While the Vatican is known for its slow pace, even the speediest bureaucracy would have found it difficult to review and approve sensitive legal documents over a long weekend.
“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 DiNardo. Such back-and-forth, he wrote, would have allowed the documents to “properly mature.”
The main goal of the U.S. bishops’ fall meeting had been to approve a code of conduct for bishops and create a lay-led commission to receive complaints against them. The measures were a crisis response to the scandal over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, once a senior American cleric who is now accused of molesting minors and adults, and new revelations of old sex abuse cases and their cover-up in Pennsylvania.
DiNardo stunned the bishops when he opened the assembly Nov. 12 by announcing that “at the insistence of the Holy See” the bishops would not be voting on the measures after all. He said the Vatican wanted them to delay a vote until after Francis hosts a global summit in February on preventing sex abuse by priests.
While DiNardo blamed the Vatican, the letter from Ouellet suggests that the Vatican felt that DiNardo had tried to pull a fast one by intentionally withholding legally problematic texts until the last minute. That the Vatican would have wanted a say in crafting the texts is not surprising, given the Holy See alone has exclusive authority to investigate and discipline problem bishops.
“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 a statement Tuesday to The Associated Press, DiNardo characterized the disconnect as a misunderstanding. He said he assumed the Vatican would have had a chance to “review and offer adjustments” to the measures after the U.S. bishops approved them, not before. He insisted that U.S. bishops were not trying to appropriate Vatican powers for themselves.