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CHICAGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal Blase Cupich is denying allegations he subverted U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) accountability proposals by introducing a rival plan to Vatican officials ahead of last week's general assembly in Baltimore.
On Friday, Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported that in the lead-up to the bishops' meeting, Cupich and disgraced Washington, D.C. Cdl. Donald Wuerl collaborated on a plan that would exclude the laity from oversight of episcopal conduct and instead allow U.S. bishops to police themselves on sex abuse.
Sources in Rome and Washington told CNA that Cupich and Wuerl worked together "for weeks" on their plan before presenting it to the Congregation for Bishops prior to the U.S. bishops' meeting in Baltimore. "It was a mutual effort," an archdiocese of Washington insider told CNA.
"The allegation is false," Cupich told Crux on Sunday. "At no time prior to the Baltimore meeting did the two of us collaborate in developing, nor even talk about, an alternative plan."
The USCCB proposal would have set up an independent lay-led commission to investigate sex abuse claims against bishops, but it was scuttled by order of the Congregation for Bishops — a dicastery whose members include both Cupich and Wuerl — before the Baltimore meeting began. Cupich lost no time in putting forward his alternative, which would give investigative responsibility to metropolitan archbishops and their archdiocesan review boards.
The notion that bishops should be allowed to police themselves on sex abuse was first proposed by Wuerl in August. Observers slammed the D.C. cardinal for his suggestion, scoffing at the prospect that the same prelates who exempted themselves from the Dallas Charter could be trusted now to hold themselves accountable. But Wuerl was undeterred; together, he and Cupich set to work on their rival proposal.
Sullied by his record of sex abuse cover-up as bishop of Pittsburgh, Wuerl remained in the shadows during the Baltimore conference, leaving it to Cupich to introduce their plan.
On Nov. 12, immediately after USCCB President Cdl. Daniel DiNardo announced the vote to establish the lay-led commission had been canceled by the Congregation for Bishops, Cupich stepped forward to suggest that discussion of the measure continue. He made no mention of his rival proposal.
The next day, he began voicing doubt as to the workability of the lay-led commission; shortly after, he unveiled his plan as an alternative.
According to CNA, "Several bishops" remarked that "Cupich appeared to be positioning himself as an unofficial but influential policy-maker in the conference. His status would be strengthened if the plan he introduced in Baltimore gained support in Rome, they said, especially if it were favored over the plan proposed by conference officials."
USCCB spokespersons have refused to comment on any role Cupich or Wuerl might have had in the Congregation for Bishops' directive blocking the vote to set up the independent commission.