Vatican Letter: USCCB Abuse Vote Blocked Owing to Inadequate Review

by Stephen Wynne  •  •  January 2, 2019   

Cdl. Marc Ouellet: More time needed to discuss proposals

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VATICAN CITY ( - According to an Associated Press (AP) exclusive published Tuesday, in November, the Holy See blocked a U.S. bishops' vote on new episcopal conduct standards because it hadn't been given adequate time to review the proposed measures.

On Nov. 12, at the opening of the U.S. bishops' 2018 fall assembly in Baltimore, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) President Cdl. Daniel DiNardo stunned his audience with the announcement that the Holy See had refused to allow a vote on two proposals regarding standards of episcopal conduct and the creation of a special commission to govern violations of conduct standards. DiNardo expressed "disappointment" at the Vatican order while insisting it was merely "a bump in the road."

But according to the AP report, a Nov. 11 letter from Cdl. Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, undermines DiNardo's version of events. In it, Cdl. Ouellet notes that DiNardo's draft proposals arrived at the Vatican on Nov. 8 — just four days before the opening of the Baltimore assembly.

"While the Vatican is known for its slow pace," observed AP reporter Nicole Winfield, "even the speediest bureaucracy would have found it difficult to review and sign off on sensitive legal documents in that time."

"Considering the nature and scope of the documents being proposed by the (conference)," Cdl. Ouellet told DiNardo, "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 suggested that an exchange between the Vatican and the USCCB would have allowed the proposal to "properly mature."

"While fully aware that a bishops' conference enjoys a rightful autonomy ... to discuss and eventually approve measures that are within the conference's powers," Ouellet noted, "the conference's work must always be integrated within the hierarchical structure and universal law of the church."

It is now clear there were different expectations on the bishops conference's part and Rome's part that may have affected the understanding of these proposals.

"It is now clear there were different expectations on the bishops conference's part and Rome's part that may have affected the understanding of these proposals," DiNardo told AP. "From our perspective, they were designed to stop short of where the authority of the Holy See began."

Cardinal DiNardo issued a statement to AP on Tuesday, suggesting the dispute was a misunderstanding. The Galveston-Houston archbishop said he assumed the Holy See would have been able to "review and offer adjustments" to the measures after the USCCB had voted on them, and underscored the U.S. bishops were not trying to commandeer Vatican powers for themselves.

DiNardo went on to say he had shared the "content and direction" of the proposed measures with various Vatican offices earlier in October and had compiled the text of the proposals after hearing no objection from the Rome.

Cdl. Marc Ouellet, Prefect of Congregation for Bishops

"We had not planned, nor had the Holy See made a request, to share the texts prior to the body of bishops having had an opportunity to amend them," he said.

DiNardo also said he had told Ouellet that the order blocking the vote "would prove a great disappointment to the faithful, who were expecting their bishops to take just action."

"Though there were canonical precisions mentioned, the emphasis seemed to be on delaying votes and not wanting to get ahead of the (Pope's) February meeting of episcopal conference presidents," he added.

Cardinal Ouellet did mention the February sex abuse synod in his letter to DiNardo, noting any USCCB measure "should incorporate the input and fruits of the college of bishops' work of common discernment."

"But the February summit was announced Sept. 13," Winfield observed. "If that were the primary reason for Ouellet's demand to scrap the U.S. vote, he could have communicated that to DiNardo a lot sooner."

"Instead," she continued, "as the Nov. 12 deadline loomed for the start of the U.S. meeting and still no text proposals had arrived in Rome, Ouellet wrote DiNardo an initial warning on Nov. 6 not to vote."

"Five days later, in his Nov. 11 letter, Ouellet reaffirmed that decision after having finally read the text," Winfield added. "That also undermined DiNardo's claim to have only received the request to delay the vote the night before the meeting began."

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