The leader of southwest Ohio’s half-million Roman Catholics said the Vatican’s request last week to delay a planned vote of U.S. bishops on sexual abuse reform and new accountability measures was an “enormous disappointment.”
In a letter sent to priests and deacons this week, then released to the Dayton Daily News by his spokesman, Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr said “the Catholic bishops of the United States are acutely aware of the anger and frustration of all the faithful; thus, the request to not proceed as planned stunned all of us.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops planned to vote at its fall assembly last week on proposals aimed at “the pressing issue of bishop accountability.”
The action was in response to the revelation earlier this year an allegation of sexual abuse was substantiated by the Archdiocese of New York against ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and the revelations this summer in a Pennsylvania grand jury report that more than 300 priests collectively abused more than 1,000 children over decades.
“We planned to debate and vote on specific measures which the Executive Committee, of which I am a member, had worked diligently to prepare in the weeks leading up to the Assembly,” Schnurr wrote. “At the last minute, the Holy See asked us to not vote on these measures, but rather wait for the February meeting that Pope Francis has called to seek a global solution to this issue.”
“Naturally, our initial reaction was enormous disappointment,” Schnurr wrote.
The archbishop’s letter is an unusually direct critique of the Holy See, the seat of the worldwide Catholic church’s central administration, over which Francis is the absolute monarch. The pope has final authority over appointing or removing bishops.
Among the proposals of the U.S. bishops is the establishment of a process for investigating complaints against bishops, reported through a third-party compliance hotline, by a national commission of lay people. The bishops also seek national guidelines for the publication of lists of names of clerics facing substantiated abuse claims, and the completion of investigations into McCarrick.
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Vincent Miller, a professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton, a Catholic school, said the guidelines proposed by the bishops will have to be reconciled with the church’s cannon law, or else those accused would be able to appeal beyond them.
“I can only assume this is the reason for the Vatican’s last-minute request for delay,” Miller said in an email. “That was extremely poor communication. But I suspect it’s better than having to ask for their revision in February.”
Miller said he saw Schnurr’s letter as “a sincere attempt to communicate that the bishops take this issue seriously, despite the postponement of the vote.”
Schnurr said there are no active cases of clerical abuse of children in the archdiocese, though a Dayton Daily News investigation earlier this year revealed the costs of the decades of abuse still mounts each year, as do the number of allegations.
In fiscal year 2018, which ended in June, allegations were made to the archdiocese against seven priests, all of whom are dead, the newspaper found. Each of those allegations was referred “to the appropriate civil authority,” a spokesman said.
In 2003, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati pleaded no contest to criminal charges it failed to report sexual abuse of children by priests.