During the US bishops conference this week, my bishop, Bishop Boyea, put the following proposal to vote:
“Be it resolved that the bishops of the USCCB encourage the Holy Father to release all the documentation that can be released consistent with canon and civil law regarding the misconduct of Archbishop McCarrick.”
After around a half hour of debate this proposal was voted down 83-137. You can read about the debate over this proposal here or you can watch the video of the debate here.
Over the past day I’ve seen many negative reactions to the outcome of this vote including harsh criticism of those who voted against this proposal and I wanted to share some of my own thoughts.
First of all, I love my bishop and am proud of how he has responded to this crisis in the past few months. Bishop Boyea is bringing in an independent organization to investigate the diocese’s handling of abuse allegations and he’s fully cooperating with the state attorney general who has launched his own investigation of all the Catholic diocese in Michigan. I praised bishop’s letter outlining the diocese’s plan of action here.
Second, I think it’s really unfortunate that this vote is being used as a litmus test to label those who truly care about victims and those those who don’t. I think that’s inappropriate and further polarizes the American Church into “camps.” JD Flynn, the editor of Catholic News Agency, compared the deliberations at this conference to games of checkers or chess. I cannot see how these discussion can be seen as a game or competition. Anyone coming into this with agendas trying to “win” for their “side” probably shouldn’t be there.
Third, I think there’s legitimate reasons for not voting for this proposal, two reasons specifically. First, it’s a distraction from the tasks at hand. How does this proposal help the US Bishops take responsibility for their own mistakes? There are bishops in the US who haven’t released their own documents on abuse and/or who aren’t cooperating with civil authorities. It seems like that should be much more pressing, right? Second, it’s largely redundant of what the pope has already said he will do. Back on October 6th the Holy See released a statement saying they are studying the Vatican Archives to investigate the misconduct of Archbishop McCarrick and will release the results of that investigation when it’s completed. That Vatican press release is here.
Ultimately, I agree with Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyoming who said, “This is a statement of distrust” of the Holy See. This proposal, and more so the people making a big deal that it was voted down in order to criticize others, shows a distrust of the pope to do what is right. Why wouldn’t we trust the pope to give us the information we deserve after the investigation?
Pope Francis has done impressive and concrete things in the recent past to combat sexual abuse and cover up in the Church. I was very impressed with how he apologized and corrected his response to abuse in Chile. Just this week he put Archbishop Scicluna, a respected prosecutor of clerical sex abuse, as the number three man in the CDF. He also sacked McCarrick as soon as there was a credible accusation of child abuse.
Why wouldn’t we trust that the Holy Father will do the right thing here?
Paul Fahey is a husband, father of four, parish director of religious education, and co-founder of Where Peter Is. He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation.