Saturday, December 1, 2018

Thrown Under the Bus: Pope Francis and the USCCB Conference

[Note—this article intends no disrespect to the bishops. Under Canon 212, I am expressing my concerns that the reaction at the November conference is being misused by the Pope’s critics to make it appear that he is to blame for this. I plead with them to consider the unjust resentment directed against him because of it.]

The aftermath of the USCCB bishops’ conference last month led to one undeniable conclusion: the secular and Catholic media are generally treating the Pope as if he were the one to blame for the state of the abuse crisis.

There were things leading up to it: for example, Vigano’s (unjust, in my opinion) accusations started the narrative that the Pope was part of the coverup conspiracy. There was also the Pope effectively telling the reporters to do their homework and investigate the claims themselves (which showed Vigano’s accusations had more holes than Swiss cheese riddled by a machine gun) which was wrongly portrayed as “no comment.” Using the “argument from silence” fallacy, the Pope’s critics argued that his refusal to play along with a stunt (that was obviously calculated to be released at a time that would cause the most damage), as “proof” that he was hiding the truth that would convict him (also a “shifting the burden of proof” fallacy).

This sets the background for the USCCB conference in November. The bishops planned to vote on some proposals involving oversight and sanctions against covering up bishops that were potentially in conflict with canon law. Then, on the opening day of the conference, it was announced that the Vatican had ordered that the bishops not vote on these issues, and wait instead for the meeting of all the leaders of bishops’ conferences scheduled for February. Cardinal DiNardo and others expressed “disappointment” at the decision, Catholics were outraged. The term, “swept under the carpet” was a common epithet.

Except it wasn’t. Cardinal Müller and others pointed out that these proposals were literally submitted at the last minute. There was no time to review them properly to make sure there were no conflicts [§]. In other words, the Vatican wasn’t covering up. Those responsible for submitting the proposals in a timely manner dropped the ball in an unforced error [@]. But bishops were saying they were disappointed instead of saying mea culpa. It was troublesome because it’s not like this requirement was unknown prior to November 2018.

In fact, the situation probably would have been worse if the Vatican had just allowed it to go for a vote. Canon law requires that decrees from such a meeting be reviewed and approved before they can take effect. Both the 1917 and 1983 Codes of canon law make this clear:

(1917 Code of Canon Law)

(1983 Code of Canon Law)

If these dubious proposals had been voted on and, after review, found to be in conflict with canon law, they would have to be rejected. But do you think people would recognize “oh, the bishops were corrected”? No. The Pope would be attacked as “blocking reform” and vilified by people either unaware of or uninterested in the fact that the Church is governed by the rule of law, not arbitrary decrees [&].

This is not a case of the Pope “having the right” but being unwise to use it (as someone told me). This is a case of the Pope being in the right. There may or may not be canonical problems with the proposals. But that must be determined before they can be promulgated. The USCCB (for whatever reason) failed to submit their proposals in a timely fashion then. The USCCB can submit their proposals to the February meeting where this can be determined now. Then we can determine their merits and whether they fit in with or contradict the nature of what the Church is.

But the use of language expressing “disappointment” over something that could not be otherwise is stirring up resentment against something that is not the fault of the appropriate Vatican Congregations (Congregations of Bishops and CDF), and to use it risks looking like “throwing the Pope under the bus for the failure of others.




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[§] I find it curious that many Papal critics who rightly laughed at Pelosi’s “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy,” wanted the Vatican to accept exactly that.

[@] I don’t know if it was bad planning or deliberate. But it seems to me that to avoid rash judgment, we must not make an accusation of malfeasance without proof.

[&] Canon Law, like secular law, can be amended. But it can’t just be ignored when we desire it.

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