The Catholic bishops met this past week in Washington DC. They had one item on their agenda that was sure to monopolize the press coverage. How were they going to handle the new wave of sex abuse, especially now that it has evolved into a story more about themselves than the priests? This time it’s different. Back in 2002 when the bishops met in Dallas just as the Boston scandal was breaking, they voted on a plan and implemented it. Agree with the relative merits or not, they acted and they acted decisively.
This time not so much. They arrived in Washington tired, beaten, and buffeted by the Cardinal McCarrick scandal. This time the guns were pointed at them and they knew it. Just like in 2002, they had an action plan. They were prepared to vote on it so they could put the McCarrick mess behind them. But that wasn’t to be. The night before they were to vote on the measures, Cardinal Nicholas DiNardo announced to the bishops that the Pope had intervened at the last minute and prohibited them from voting on their sex abuse policy. According to media reports, the bishops were stunned and some were angry. They wondered why would the Pope hamstring them in such a public and humiliating fashion.
The public reason concerned canon law (church law) and the fact that the Vatican had called a worldwide summit for February 2019 to discuss policy to handle the sex abuse crisis. Privately, the bishops realized it was a public rebuke and a loud vote of no confidence from the Pope himself.
The Pope’s sycophants, Cardinals Joseph Tobin and Blaise Cupich, defended the Pope’s actions and said this would all work out for the best. Of course, these are the two men most closely associated with Cardinal McCarrick. They may have some things to hide so the papal delay buys them some time.
At the end of the week, the bishops limped back home to their respective dioceses in a worse state than when they arrived. They’d been exposed as ineffective, incompetent, and weak. They are now the church equivalent of Caspar Milquetoast.
Catholics in the pews should be outraged. Survivors of sexual abuse have seen this before. They’ve learned not to trust their “spiritual leaders”. So, on the surface nothing changes. It’s the same-old, same-old. But reality abhors a vacuum. The bishops will eventually suffer the consequences of their own ineptitude. They will leave and and their leaders will have no one to lead. They’ll be a bunch of old men taking a lonely walk to nowhere.