The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will not be considering two measures it drafted in response to the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church after the Vatican intervened at the last minute. Announcing the surprise move at the start of the bishops' annual fall assembly, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said, "At the insistence of the Holy See, we will not be voting" on the changes.
"The Holy See has asked that we delay voting," DiNardo said, because Pope Francis plans to hold a global meeting of conference presidents, scheduled for February 2019.
One of the two "action items" would establish standards of accountability for bishops; the other would set up a special commission for receiving complaints against bishops.
"I am sorry for the late notice, but in fact this was conveyed to me late yesterday afternoon," said DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston.
"Although I am disappointed that we will not be taking these actions tomorrow" through a vote, he said, adding that he hopes the delay will let the Catholic Church improve its response to the abuse crisis.
The sudden change in the bishops' agenda came as they gathered in Baltimore, planning to put in place what the conference called "a series of concrete measures" in response to the sexual abuse scandal.
It is "the first public meeting of bishops since a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation reported at least a thousand children were molested by hundreds of priests — and that bishops systematically covered it up," Mary Rose Madden of member station WYPR reports.
Even before that shocking report on "predator priests" emerged in August, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said he was concerned that the church wasn't responding quickly or actively enough to the abuse crisis.
As news of the Vatican's intervention spread, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, "critics of the delay said it sends the message that the Holy See does not grasp the depth of the crisis." And Madden notes that activists and abuse survivors have been taking to social media to declare that "justice delayed is justice denied."
When DiNardo began the bishops' meeting on Monday, he devoted a large chunk of his opening address to speak directly to abuse survivors.
"Where I have not been watchful or alert to your needs, wherever I have failed, I am deeply sorry," DiNardo said. He added. "Some would say this is entirely a crisis of the past. It is not. We must never victimize survivors over again by demanding they heal on our timeline."
Many of the abuse cases that have now become part of the public record date from years or decades ago. "But the pain is daily," the president of the U.S. bishops said.
At a midday news conference that focused heavily on the months-long delay, DiNardo said that even though the U.S. bishops cannot immediately hold a vote, they would still work to clarify the actions they want to take, "so that Rome will see that."
"We are not, ourselves, happy about this," he said.