We pray the Vatican didn’t realize what a blow it struck to the faith of American Catholics last week. Its curt and abrupt order to the US bishops — a directive to put off for months any vote on their planned new anti-abuse protocols — threatens to deepen divisions within the church.]
As Sohrab Ahmari ably summarized for The Post, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops was set to vote on measures to close key loopholes in the anti-abuse reforms passed in 2002: Specifically, the bishops meant to ensure that they themselves could be held accountable.
This was a bold and vital step in the wake of recent revelations, from the Pennsylvania report to the scandals surrounding now-ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Catholics who’d weathered more than a decade of appalling news of abuse had begun to wonder if the US church (at least) was even capable of cleaning its own house.
Atop that came the charges of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican envoy to America — the most extreme of which is a claim that a high cabal within the Vatican opposes all efforts to get to the bottom of the abuse scandals.
The Vatican’s sudden move to stop a major anti-abuse step seems to confirm that charge. Especially when it came under a pope who has emphasized “synodality,” or giving various bishops more say in church governance.
The Curia’s order officially had two rationales: 1) the US proposals don’t conform with canon law, and 2) Pope Francis has called a global conclave in February to address the worldwide abuse scandals, and the Vatican doesn’t want national hierarchies taking big steps in advance of that gathering.
This may be completely true, yet it doesn’t remotely justify dropping the demand on the American bishops at the last minute, with no notice or diplomacy.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the US conference, was visibly shaken when he shared the news with his brethren, making it plain that failure to vote was “at the insistence of the Holy See.”
Pope Francis has reason to be suspicious of the Americans: Some of the most poisonous resistance to his efforts to change the church’s tone has come from US traditionalists. But it’s also true that he has regularly gotten his feet wrong in responding to abuse crises in multiple, very different nations.
Then, too, the American bishops must deal with flocks who live in a 24/7 news cycle, a tempo still foreign to Vatican City. Plus, they’re far more likely than the pontiff to see that the pews are emptying out, and the lines for the sacraments getting shorter.
The belief that the church was being run for the venal benefit of the hierarchy, and not for the sake of the faith, was central to Martin Luther’s great rebellion. It’s almost inconceivable that the church could see a split to rival the Protestant Reformation, but it’s more conceivable than it was a week ago.