Dolan: Even without vote, discussing abuse protocols still ‘productive’

A bishop sorts through documents on sexual abuse for discussion Nov. 13 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

By Julie Asher 
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A Vatican request that the U.S. bishops postpone voting on several proposals to address abuse was a disappointment but they “quickly took a deep breath” and realized they could still have a productive discussion about the measures, said New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan.

“It’s a big thing and I don’t mind telling you … that from what I’ve heard my brothers say, there was a sense of disappointment and we can’t deny that,” the cardinal said in a Nov. 13 interview with host Msgr. Jim Vlaun during “Conversation with Cardinal Dolan” on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel.

“I think there was a momentum going, and we looked forward to a fruitful week, and now there’s a little frustration,” the cardinal told the priest, who is president and CEO of Telecare Television of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York.

“However, I think the bishops quickly took a deep breath and said, ‘Wait a minute, that’s still doesn’t keep us from talking about it,” Cardinal Dolan continued. “That still doesn’t keep us from giving Cardinal DiNardo a sound sense of direction as to where we should go and almost to deputize him to bring that to Rome at the February meeting.”

He was referring to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who announced the Vatican’s request as the bishops’ Nov. 12-14 annual meeting opened in Baltimore.

The Congregation for Bishops requested that no vote be taken on proposals such as standards of episcopal accountability and conduct and the formation of a special commission for review of complaints against bishops for violations of the standards.

They are among steps developed by the USCCB Administrative Committee in September in response to the firestorm that has emerged since June over how the bishops handled reports of wayward priests.

Cardinal Dolan told Msgr. Vlaun that, am despite the vote delay, he felt the bishops’ discussion on the proposals would still be “pretty productive.”

“I think we bishops in the United States keep reminding ourselves, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, we are Catholic. We are members of the church universal and we are a small segment of the church universal,'” the cardinal said. “We know here in the United States, this is not just a Catholic problem. We’re talking about the sexual abuse of minors. It is a problem in every religion, every organization, every family, every institution, every school.”

“It is not just a Catholic problem. … Nor is it just an American problem. Now, we know that it’s throughout the world,” Cardinal Dolan added. “So I think what the Holy Father is saying, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t want you to get too far ahead here. We appreciate what you’re doing in the United States, but we want you to be part of the universal discussion.'”

He added that he feels the Vatican made its request out of a ” benevolent desire” that Cardinal DiNardo “come with an open mind” to the February meeting, instead of with “things already decided” by the U.S. bishops.

In Rome, in response to questions about the request the bishops delay voting, Catholic News Service was told the Congregation for Bishops “is working to ensure the best evaluation and accompaniment of the questions raised by the American episcopacy.” Father Massimo Cassola replied to CNS on behalf of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the congregation.

Andrea Tornielli, a respected Vatican reporter, wrote Nov. 13 on the Vatican Insider website that “a Vatican source involved in the matter” told him: “It is wrong to think the Holy See does not share the objective of the U.S. bishops to have effective instruments for combating the phenomenon of the abuse of minors and to establish firm points regarding the responsibility of bishops themselves. The motive for asking for a postponement (of the vote) should not be considered putting on the brakes, but an invitation to better evaluate the proposed texts, including in view of the meeting in February of all the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of the world with the pope dedicated to the struggle against abuse.”

Tornielli reported that the Vatican believed the proposal on standards of accountability for bishops “goes beyond both civil and canon law” and the Vatican raised concerns “regarding the generic nature of some passages; it could occur that a bishop does not know he is violating these standards of behavior but in the future could be brought before a national commission called to judge him.”

“Another problem,” Tornielli said, “regards some incoherence between the contents of the document regarding the national commission on the responsibility of bishops and the Code of Canon Law. In the draft given to the Vatican, the commission is described as a nonprofit institution without having a juridical and canonical figure, but it is able to exercise a power of judgment on bishops.”

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Cindy Wooden in Rome contributed to this story.

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