A bombshell in Baltimore


Catholic Herald, 15 November 2018

Whether the issue is abuse or administration, Francis readily exercises his supreme authority over bishops

It has been evident for some years, but now it has been hammered home with breathtaking emphasis. Pope Francis has decided that he, and he alone, will hold bishops accountable for sexual misconduct or negligence in handling cases of sexual abuse.

It is a high-risk strategy that brings every case to the heart of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where the Holy Father huddles with his inner circle. Neither bishops’ conferences nor the Roman Curia will take the lead on the vexed issue of holding bishops accountable. The Holy Father will do it himself.

The news came as an utter surprise to the American bishops, who were meeting in Baltimore to establish a new “code of conduct” for bishops and to form a special lay commission to handle allegations against bishops. For months, as the “summer of shame” brought the anger of Catholics down upon their heads, they have been looking to take concrete action this week.

But as the Holy See saw that the Americans were prepared to move ahead, the nuncio in Washington, Archbishop Christoph Pierre, was summoned last week to Rome for urgent consultations with Pope Francis. On Sunday afternoon the Congregation for Bishops asked the Americans not to move ahead, delaying any action until after the sexual abuse summit in February, when Pope Francis will meet the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences.

The news from Rome arrived exactly two weeks to the day after Pope Francis said that the “primary fruit” of the recent synod of bishops was a new way of “working together” in a “synodal style”. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the US bishops’ conference, tartly noted that the edict from Rome did not seem very “synodical”. Fair enough, but perhaps Cardinal DiNardo missed the clear signs Pope Francis has been sending that he, and he alone, will be the one to decide.

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