Why has Pope Francis hamstrung the U.S. bishops?

Francis appears more concerned with making sure everyone understands that he’s in charge, than he is with actually governing.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, celebrates Mass Nov. 12 at the fall general assembly of the USCCB in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Pope Francis has ordered the Catholic Bishops of the United States to refrain from voting on a code of conduct and a lay-led oversight body to investigate bishops accused of misconduct. The President of the USCCB, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, told prelates of the Pope’s instruction as they were gathered for the opening session of their highly anticipated Fall Meeting in Baltimore.

The reason given for the delay is that the Holy See desires the US bishops’ action be informed by the discussions scheduled to take place among the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences in February at the Vatican.

Upon hearing the announcement, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago immediately took the floor to suggest the bishops stick to their agenda, and take a resolution ballot in lieu of a binding vote. “As you [Cardinal DiNardo] are our representative going to that meeting, we need to be very clear with you where we stand,” Cupich said, “and we need to tell our people where we stand.”

Cardinal Cupich also said, “It is clear that the Holy See is taking seriously the abuse crisis in the Church, seeing it as a watershed moment, not just for the Church in this country, but around the world, in putting so much emphasis on the February meeting.”

The Vatican announced the February meeting in September, at the end of a three-day gathering of the paralyzed and scandal-ridden C9 Council of Cardinal Advisers — the Pope’s hand-picked “kitchen cabinet” tasked with drawing up the blueprint for reform of the Roman Curia — in the wake of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s dossier alleging systemic corruption and rot in the Curia, including a cover-up of the disgraced former Archbishop of Washington, DC, Theodore Edgar “Uncle Ted” McCarrick, that stretches back at least twenty years and involves three popes and three secretaries of state, as well as a host of other more-or-less senior Curial officials.

The Holy See has not published a list of those officially invited to the meeting — though it is supposed to involve all the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences — nor has the Holy See said which dicastery is principally responsible for organizing the meeting. There is no agenda, nor is there any specific mandate.

When the C9 Cardinals announced February meeting, this Vatican watcher had the distinct impression they had to twist the Holy Father’s arm to get him to agree to do anything at all with regard to the burgeoning crisis.

The Holy See apparently did not have similar scruples when it came to action on the part of French bishops, who last week voted to establish an independent commission to investigate their hierarchy’s response to abuse since 1950, and make reform recommendations. In a message to the French bishops sent through his Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, Pope Francis called on the French hierarchical leadership to continue their efforts at reform. News.va reported last week:

[T]he Pope encourages the [French] Bishops to persevere in the fight against pedophilia, urging them to continue in their implementation of a “zero tolerance” stance against sexual abuse committed by certain members of the Church, without ever forgetting, he says, “to recognize and support the humble fidelity lived in daily life, with the grace of God, by so many priests, men and women religious, consecrated and lay faithful.” He also stresses the importance of listening to the victims whose wounds, he adds, will never be healed by a prescription.

It remains to be seen whether the Holy See will intrude on the Italian bishops, who are slated to consider similar proposals at their own extraordinary assembly, which also opened Monday in the Vatican.

Addressing the US bishops on Monday morning in Baltimore, shortly after they had received news of the Vatican order, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, said,

There may be a temptation on the part of some to relinquish responsibility for reform to others than ourselves, as if we were no longer capable of reforming or trusting ourselves, as if the deposit of trust should be transferred to other institutions entirely.

Archbishop Pierre went on to say,

Assistance is both welcome and necessary, and surely collaboration with the laity is essential. However, the responsibility as bishops of this Catholic Church is ours — to live with, to suffer with, and to exercise properly.

The laity, in other words, are welcome to pray, and will foot the bill for the bishops’ incompetence, negligence, and wickedness, but have no say otherwise.

Whether the US Department of Justice will see it quite that way, or any of the more than a dozen states currently conducting or considering whether to open their own criminal probes into the conduct of senior US Church leadership, remains to be seen.

After the nuncio’s remarks, Cardinal DiNardo announced his intention to lead the US bishops in discussion of their proposals. “We remain committed to the specific program of greater episcopal accountability,” he said near the top of his presidential address. “Consultations will take place,” he continued. “Votes will not be [cast] this week, but we will prepare ourselves to move forward for action.” Cardinal DiNardo went on to say, “Whether we will be regarded as guardians of the abused or the abuser, will be determined by our actions.”

When the Executive Committee leadership of the USCCB met with Pope Francis in September, and asked him to authorize a special investigation — an Apostolic Visitation — into the rise of McCarrick, Pope Francis refused. Though the Holy See never gave a reason for the refusal — never actually said the Pope had refused — the general picture that emerged in the wake of the meeting was one in which the blunderbuss procedure of USCCB leadership in announcing their intention in mid-August to request the Apostolic Visitation before talking things over with the Holy See, coupled with Archbishop Viganò’s highly publicized J’accuse! toward the end of that month, led to Pope Francis feeling unduly pressured, not to say painted into a corner.

McCarrick is credibly accused of abusing at least one minor in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and alleged to have subjected the boy who was the first child he baptized as a priest to a decade and more of sexual violence. McCarrick, now known also for his serial abuse and harassment of seminarians, nevertheless advanced to the rank of Cardinal before Francis was forced by circumstance to have his hat.

Francis also suggested the bishops forego their Fall gathering entirely, in favor of a spiritual retreat.

Just to be clear: expectations from the US bishops’ Fall meeting were generally low already. The proposals on the table amounted to things the bishops admit they should have been doing all along — indeed, things that no morally competent individual or group could fail to do as a matter of course. The measures were a code of conduct that CNA’s editor-in-chief, JD Flynn, described as “a seven-page document in which bishops promise to do things they’re mostly obliged already to do,” and a reporting mechanism that had no real teeth and no real funding mechanism.

It also would have involved the apostolic nuncio as de facto referee. The reporting mechanism would have to report to the nuncio. If the Pope’s defenders will urge that it does not appear entirely unreasonable to demand the US bishops not foist the arrangement upon the Holy See, it is at least equally reasonable to urge in response that the nuncio is already responsible for knowing what the bishops are doing in the country to which he is appointed.

If the Holy See wants to contend that the responsibility for making sure the bishops the Pope appoints do not rape, assault, abuse, harass, or otherwise mistreat any member of their flock, or condone, allow, wink at, or otherwise tolerate any mistreatment or malfeasance of any kind, should somehow be placed under terms or subject to negotiation, let the Holy See say so in words.

In any case, the nuts and bolts of the arrangement — which the US bishops’ administrative committee approved on September 19 — are the sort of thing the USCCB leadership and the competent curial officials could have worked out together, either in the run-up to the Baltimore gathering, or during the three days of sessions, themselves, or even subsequent to the vote

The measures would at any rate have been likely to offer precious little in the way of direct address of the core problem: not so much the bishops’ failure to police their own ranks with respect to the abuse of minors and the cover-up of said abuse — appalling and egregious as that failure is — as the bishops’ dereliction of their duty to foster a sane moral culture among the clergy, high and low.

Here’s the point on which the whole thing hangs: neither Cardinal DiNardo, who in his presidential allocution said of himself and his fellows, “In our weakness, we fell asleep,” nor Pope Francis, who has called the February meeting around the theme of “safeguarding minors” or “minors and vulnerable adults,” comes close to acknowledging either the nature or the scope of the crisis.

The bishops were not merely negligent: many of them were complicit. As a body, they are widely viewed as untrustworthy. Francis appears more concerned with making sure everyone understands that he’s in charge, than he is with actually governing.


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About Christopher R. Altieri 66 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is co-Founder and general manager of Vocaris Media and the author of The Soul of a Nation: America as a Tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood.

41 Comments

  1. Francis is the enabler of abusers. That is without a doubt. Now they are trying to buy time on how to cover up again.

    This is no longer just the smoke of satan.

    • You are correct, Sir. The problem is homosexuality, make no mistake. I believe there is a faction in the Church, a homo-heresy faction looking to get the Church to change its teaching on homosexuality behavior, rather than praying and trying to help these poor people. As Benedict said while he was pope applicants to seminary should be closely screamed concerned their possibility of being homosexual and if so, reject them

    • Exactly right. Look at the activities underlying the Italian and French bishops’ conferences on sexual abuse where Pope Bergoglio through his henchmen has managed to render them vacuous and unenforceable.

    • Pope Benedict possibly is maintaining white cassock and title because he realizes Pope Francis rules as the result of an invalid electorate process.

  2. I think we, as lay people, are getting quite tired of the tip-toeing around the issue of sexual activity within the clergy. Say it as it is. Clear the air and confess what, exactly, has been going on in the seminaries. How much of what we hear is true? Until then I will have a hard time praying for or promoting vocations.

  3. Pope Francis’ encouragement to the French Bishops cites “pedophilia” as the issue. Instead the outstanding issue is homosexual activity among clergy including among the highest ranked prelates in the Church, several members of the 9 Cardinal advisers others appointed to the Vatican Cardinal Kevin Farrell Dicastery for the Laity and Family. The entire picture gives strong indication that Pope Francis’ curtailment, twice [the first his flat refusal of Cardinal Di Nardo’s request for delegation of authority to investigate bishops] of the US Bishops to initiate meaningful reform and of clerical homosexuality particularly among prelates – is not simply a matter of perceived usurpation of his authority, rather far more his new paradigmatic agenda to accommodate same sex behavior. Needless to say permitting the USCCB to investigate US Hierarchy by a special commission including Laity doesn’t sit well with his [the Pontiff’s] own reluctance and side stepping of the Archbishop “Carlo Maria Viganò’ dossier”.

    • Dear Father,
      Re: Carlo Vigano dossier. Vigano has no credible evidence. Might we not say instead that this is a man who has never acknowleged his anger over his many disappointments with the Church he represents? You might want to look up Carlo Vigano and where he failed to live up to his calling.

      r

      • Sally Dolam that is complete hogwash, and you know it is hogwash. Everything Vigano said was effectively admitted by Ouellet. Stop your defense of homosexuals in the priesthood

      • Do you think that someone who has been Nuncio for six years “has no credible evidence” when his job is to find out what is going on? If he had no evidence, would he have done what he did? Get a dose of reality.

      • “Vigano has no credible evidence”

        Credible to whom? It seems quite credible to me, and your saying it isn’t credible has no more authority than my saying it is

      • Sally it’s certainly possible there is no evidence and that the Archbishop is acting out of vindictiveness. However does it seem reasonable that he would make such a monumental charge against the Pontiff without substance? His detractors immediately sought to defame him. Nonetheless many ordinaries in the US who personally know him have stood up for his integrity as has Archbishop Thomas Olmsted who I met and was befriended by. I can vouch for Olmsted’s integrity. Archbishop Viganò’s nunciator assistant stood by his allegations and is also in hiding. If there is no evidence shouldn’t the Vatican and all concerned turn over documents of McCarrick’s sanction by the previous Pontiff. Admitted by Cardinal Ouellet in his castigation of the Archbishop? There is much to be considered for a serious investigation of Viganò’s allegations which if vacuous can easily be repudiated by the Vatican by opening up files.

    • Fr. Moello’s comments: Carlo M. Vigano could not produce any credible evidence, when
      asked. Might you not want to look into his past history as a member of the hierarchy,
      who, it seems is settling old scores, i.e. he was accused of hindering a sexual mis-
      conduct investigation in Minnesota. See NY Times article by Jason Horowitz -Aug. 28,2018.

      • Sally Dolam that is complete hogwash, and you know it is hogwash. Everything Vigano said was effectively admitted by Ouellet. Stop your defense of homosexuals in the priesthood

      • I detect a Bergoglio sycophant, “Doc”. It’s glaringly obvious that you haven’t read any of the former nuncio’s testimonies. Archbishop Vigano rejects any suggestion that he hindered the Minnesota investigation.

        Viganò responds to abuse cover-up allegations

        ‘Accusations against my person appeared in the media – in July 2016, when I had already left my mission in Washington, D.C. – following the publication of a memorandum written by Father Dan Griffith, the then delegate for the protection of minors in the Archdiocese.

        These accusations – alleging that I ordered the two Auxiliary Bishops of Minneapolis to close the investigation into the life of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt – are false.

        Father Griffith was not present during my meeting at the Nunciature with the Archbishop and the two Auxiliaries on April 12, 2014, during which several affidavits containing accusations against Archbishop Nienstedt were handed to me.

        These affidavits were collected by the firm, Greene Espel, who was retained by Father Griffith on behalf of the Archdiocese to investigate Archbishop Nienstedt. This firm belongs to the group “Lawyers for All Families,” who fought against Archbishop Nienstedt over the approval of same-sex marriage in the State of Minnesota.

        In one of these affidavits, it was claimed that Archbishop Nienstedt had had an affair with a Swiss Guard during his service in the Vatican some twenty years prior.

        Private investigators from the Greene Espel firm had conducted an inquiry in an unbalanced and prosecutorial style, and now wanted immediately to extend their investigation to the Pontifical Swiss Guard, without first hearing Archbishop Nienstedt.

        I suggested to the bishops who came to the Nunciature on April 12, 2014, that they tell the Greene Espel lawyers that it appeared to me appropriate that Archbishop Nienstedt be heard before taking this step – audiatur et altera pars – which they had not yet done. The bishops accepted my suggestion.

        But the following day, I received a letter signed by the two auxiliaries, falsely asserting that I had suggested the investigation be stopped.

        I never told anyone that Greene Espel should stop the inquiry, and I never ordered any document to be destroyed. Any statement to the contrary is false.

        However, I did instruct one of the auxiliary bishops, Lee A. Piché, to remove from the computer and the archdiocesan archives the letter falsely asserting that I had suggested the investigation be halted. I insisted on this not only to protect my name, but also that of the Nunciature and the Holy Father who would be unnecessarily harmed by having a false statement used against the Church.

        The very day the news appeared in the New York Times, on July 21, 2016, the Holy Father asked Cardinal Parolin to phone the Nuncio in Washington, D.C. (Christophe Pierre), ordering that an investigation into my conduct be opened immediately, so that I could be reported to the tribunal in charge of judging abuse cover-up by bishops.

        I informed the Vatican Press Office in the persons of Father Lombardi and Mr. Greg Burke. With the authorization of the Substitute of the Secretary of State, then-Archbishop Becciu, Mr. Jeffrey Lena – an American lawyer working for the Holy See – went to the Congregation for Bishops where he found documents proving that my conduct had been absolutely correct.

        Mr. Lena handed a written report exonerating me to the Holy Father. In spite of this, the Vatican Press Office did not deem it necessary to release a statement refuting the New York Times article.

        The Nunciature also responded to Cardinal Parolin with a detailed report, which restored the truth and demonstrated that my conduct had been absolutely correct.

        This report is found in the Vatican Secretariat of State and at the Nunciature in Washington, DC.

        On January 28, 2017, I wrote to both Archbishop Pierre and Archbishop Hebda (who had succeeded Nienstedt), asking them to publicly correct the Griffith memorandum. In spite of repeated emails and phone calls, I never heard back from them.’

        As for the credibility of your source, the New York Times, how long did that paper employ Jayson Blair before they were forced to fire him?

    • The Pope condemns pedophilia and condones homosexuality. He not only condones homosexuality, he supports it and tries to make it acceptable. He supports James Martin who thinks that homosexual behaviour is as normal as heterosexual behaviour.
      Homosexuality is not inborn, it is an addiction, like alcoholism. Homosexuality
      increased in the last decennia after the priests started to neglect to warn the youth about the sinfulness of masturbation. Homosexuality is mutual masturbation.
      Pornography leads to masturbation. Masturbation leads to sodomy.

  4. Before this new information on Pope Francis and his handling of this diabolical evilness that has permeated the Catholic Church, I very much disliked and questioned his motives and actions . But in light of this new action, to actualy forbid the US bishops of trying to take positive action to clean up the diabolical evil perpetrated in our Catholic US church has left me with nothing but disgust and a myriad of questions towards pope francis and his honesty of who he really is and whose agenda he is protecting. I have “zero” confidence in him as Christ’s vicar on earth. I pray the Holy Spirit will intervene swiftly!

  5. This is the right decision. At first you may not think so but consider, the meeting has no authoritative standing, the US bishops are not autonomous, the pope issues binding secrets, the Vatican dib not say they couldn’t discuss it, they said they couldn’t vote on it. Their discussion will be fruitful for the February Vatican Meeting. It amazes me that many of the worst critics of the Vatican’s action would die on the sword of any other issue that sought to weaken the pope’s authority but here they want the bishops to act independently. Can’t have It both ways.

    • You are a monsignor? I can’t believe a monsignor could be this stupid. Of course the bishops can investigate anything they want. The only thing they cannot do is punish anyone as a result. How could you be this purposely misleading? God help us if men like you are in the clergy.

  6. There are two root problem. The first problem is absolutely clear and certain from 1985: pervasive homosexuality throughout the American Church, including cardinals, bishops, priests, and laity. The second problem has become clear and certain in the last 65 years: Pope “I-will-not-say-a-word” Bergoglio himself. It is time for Pope Bergoglio to resign.

  7. It’s very obvious. The American bishops were about to authorize a lay investigation into the connections of Cardinal McCarrick The Pope realizes this will lead to an understanding that the Pope was an active member of a homosexual mafia within the church. So the Pope is forbidding the Americans to do their own work. Once he has a few select crapola bishops at the February meeting, he can wail and moan about child abuse, and try to divert attention from the fact that the Pope Francis papacy is one big homosexual club. It’s just that simple. We are living in a historic moment of a very bad, very corrupt Pope, who is trying his hardest to undermine the church and destroy it, Will he succeed? We shall see.

    • He cannot succeed, because Jesus promised that his Church would perdure until his second coming. There have been many bad popes and they haven0t been able to destroy the Church. When he is gone, we will see the beginning of a great movement towards the restoration of the authentic Tradition of the Church and a huge clean up. Of course, it will take time.

      • The ubiquitous “fallback” of “the Church will prevail” must be shown by the study of scripture to be fallacious if any victory of Truth is to come. Repetition of a false premise doesn’t ultimately prove its truth.

  8. Unlike the French bishops, the US Bishops might start asking uppity questions about what Pope Francis knew and did together with his benefactor and friend ex-Cardinal McCarrick.

  9. The answer to the question posed is obvious: Pope Francis knows that any honest investigation of the McCarrick matter will seriously implicate him in the scandal. In other words, what Archbishop Vigano alleges will be proven true. Francis knew McCarrick was under sanction and the reasons why and he still brought him out of the mothballs to, among other things, negotiate the handover of the Catholic Church in China to the successors of Mao. May God deliver us from this dictator pope and the gangsters and perverts who surround him.

  10. They can run, but they can’t hide.
    The gig is up and they know it. This little delay might buy them some time, but it won’t matter.
    The US Justice Department will steam roll this corrupt perverted mafia.
    It might destroy the Church in the States, but so be it.
    The US Church is only 6% of the Universal Church. The Vatican will miss the money train, but the Church will survive.
    Then, Her Immaculate Heart will Triumph.

  11. Oh my Jesus, have mercy on your Church and cleanse it from human corruption. Inspire all your faithful people both clergy and laity to be united in erradicating any false teachings and to be courageous in preaching and doing the will of God the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Mother of Perpetual Help, pray for us.

  12. opm
    Yes! The Church is greatly suffering.
    We must remember that our Lord Jesus Christ will be with us till the end.
    I am really fed up, but I am not worried because God is in charge.

  13. The whole lot needs to be replaced. We are simply not going to be able to convince these homosexuals that they need to change or get out. Not going to happen. So now what. What do you do when the men in power dig in, are completely resisting your calls for change. That is the question to be answered, because neither appeals to their conscience (they have none) nor any other type of verbal plea is going to mean a thing.
    These men understand power.
    They understand money and their need for it. Yours.
    They understand public relations and how bad we can make them look.
    That’s it, that’s all we’ve got. So keep the pressure up, with no real goal in sight. We are wandering aimlessly, with no leader. We’re scattered, some are demanding women priests, some are demanding women in leadership positions, some want something else. The Church is being ripped apart by various factions, because there is no leadership from the Cardinals or Bishops.
    Most importantly, the man in the Chair of Peter is nothing but evil. If these sodomites vote for another phony pope next week, they’ll only put another destroyer in his place, someone even worse, a Parolin or a Tagle or a slimy appeaser who can play both sides of the fence. No, no good can come from these men. We’ve seen enough.
    Only God can answer this disaster, let’s pray He answers them. He knows the solution, because we sure don’t.

    • There is an answer to this going forward…eliminate the celibacy requirement and only allow married men who have wives and children to be priests. They will have earned the right to be called “Father”.

      • Phil B., there is a lot of abuse going on that involves married men (and women) in the world. Denominations that have married clergy also have abuse problems. Celibacy isn’t the problem. Lack of chastity is.

  14. Sally it’s certainly possible there is no evidence and that the Archbishop is acting out of vindictiveness. However does it seem reasonable that he would make such a monumental charge against the Pontiff without substance? His detractors immediately sought to defame him. Nonetheless many ordinaries in the US who personally know him have stood up for his integrity as has Archbishop Thomas Olmsted who I met and was befriended by. I can vouch for Olmsted’s integrity. Archbishop Viganò’s nunciator assistant stood by his allegations and is also in hiding. If there is no evidence shouldn’t the Vatican and all concerned turn over documents of McCarrick’s sanction by the previous Pontiff. Admitted by Cardinal Ouellet in his castigation of the Archbishop? There is much to be considered for a serious investigation of Viganò’s allegations which if vacuous can easily be repudiated by the Vatican by opening up files.

  15. Sally it’s certainly possible there is no evidence and that the Archbishop is acting out of vindictiveness. However does it seem reasonable that he would make such a monumental charge against the Pontiff without substance? Yes his detractors were quick to defame him. Nonetheless many ordinaries in the US who personally know him have stood up for his integrity as has Archbishop Thomas Olmsted who I met and know. I can vouch for Olmsted’s integrity. If there is no evidence shouldn’t the Vatican and all concerned turn over documents of McCarrick’s sanction by the previous Pontiff Benedict XVI? Admitted in fact by Cardinal Ouellet in his letter of castigation to the Archbishop? There is much to be considered for a serious investigation of Viganò’s allegations which if vacuous can easily be repudiated by the Vatican by opening up files. Finally Msgr Jean-Francois Lantheaume First Counsellor at the Apostolic Nunciature who was Viganò’s assistant in Wash DC openly testified that Archbishop Viganò’s allegations were true. Sally give truth a chance.

  16. The be all and end all the matter is that only the Pope can rein in bishops, and he refuses to do it. Another lay board can do little as it has not authority over bishops, nor can it, as the Church by divine institution is governed by the Pope and the Bishops and that is based on the Sacrament of Orders. Lay people can and should be called to assist. Cardinal Burke and Fr. Gerald Murray on EWTN called for a complete Apostolic Visitation of all U.S. diocese, which could be carried out with the help of experienced law enforcement people and financial experts. It should also have authority to examine archives in the Vatican Dicasteries and also get sworn depositions from all those mentioned in the Viganó documents. PF has refused to do this. It doesn’t seem to be too speculative to assume that he would not come out unsccathed from such an investigation himself. This problem will not be resolved until the Francis pontificate is over and another pope who is willing to get to the boottom off all the present problems in the Church is elected.

  17. So now, by exercising direct control over the actions of American Bishops, is the Vatican signaling that it is also waiving the protections offered by the doctrine of Diplomatic Immunity? Aggressive, money hungry plaintiff’s lawyers are going to see if that is the case. Their past efforts were stymied by an inability to show that the Bishops acted under Vatican control.

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