By Christopher White, National Correspondent for The Tablet
ROME – Archbishop José Gómez, the de facto head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as the body’s president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, faces health issues, will travel to Rome the week after Easter to meet Vatican officials to discuss new measures for U.S. bishop accountability.
The Tablet has confirmed with multiple sources, who spoke under the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to comment on the matter, that a USCCB delegation, originally intended to be led by DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, will discuss proposals for accountability that the U.S. bishops hope to adopt when they meet again in June.
Monsignor Brian Bransfield, general secretary of the USCCB, along with other senior officials, will join Gómez, the archbishop of Los Angeles, for the visit.
Last month DiNardo was briefly hospitalized for what was termed a “mild stroke.” Gomez is currently responsible for day-to-day operations of the USCCB while the Texas cardinal is recovering.
During the Vatican’s summit on sex abuse in February, when Pope Francis summoned the head of every bishops’ conference around the world to Rome, DiNardo told The Tablet that such a visit was likely.
He said that following a March administrative committee meeting of the USCCB, a delegation would travel to Rome to present the developing proposals in order to avoid a repeat of what happened last November when the Vatican quashed previous plans for a vote, stating that the proposals lacked the necessary accordance with canon law and that the U.S. bishops’ had not given adequate time for Vatican review.
DiNardo told The Tablet that prior to putting any new policy up for a vote, it would be necessary to “take a quick visit to Rome” as “we don’t want to see what happened before.”
The call for new measures for bishop accountability came in response to last summer’s downfall of former cardinal and former priest Theodore McCarrick, who rose through the ranks of power both in the United States and the Vatican despite what now appears to be decades of abuse and misconduct.
The proposed measures slated to be put forward at last November’s USCCB General Assembly included a new Code of Conduct for bishops and would have created a national lay-led committee to evaluate complaints made against bishops. Those proposals generated concern in Rome about imposing new forms of authority over bishops outside the Church’s hierarchical structure, which could be seen as circumscribing the pope’s ultimate authority.
During the February summit in Rome, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, one of the summit’s organizing committee members, gave a speech instead outlining “new legal structures of accountability,” which would utilize the metropolitan archbishop who oversees the dioceses within his particular province.
Under the “metropolitan option,” as it has often been referred to, the metropolitan archbishop would be responsible for overseeing the investigation into bishops accused of abuse in conjunction with a local review board, unless there were compelling reasons to hand the case over either to the pope’s nuncio, or ambassador, in the country, or to the Vatican itself.
At a press conference during the Vatican summit, Cupich said his proposal was different from the original USCCB plan as it would become obligatory, whereas the original proposal gave bishops the ability to opt into it. He also said the proposal would give the plan a more local character necessary to follow up and communicate with victims.
DiNardo told The Tablet at the time that looking ahead to plans to vote on new measures, that “we have to tweak some things” regarding the original protocols and hinted that the final proposal he hoped to be put to a vote in June will likely “put the two together,” referring to the metropolitan model.
After the February meeting, DiNardo released a statement that said “I and the bishops of the United States felt affirmed in the work that is underway.”
“Enhanced by what I experienced here, we will prepare to advance proposals, in communion with the Holy See, in each of these areas so that my brother bishops can consider them at our June General Assembly,” the statement said.
As Gómez and the USCCB delegation prepares to meet with members of the Roman curia, the current state of the USCCB proposals remain unknown.
The Tablet, however, has also learned that the Vatican’s Secretary of State has drafted new universal guidelines for bishop accountability that are modeled after the metropolitan model, although it remains uncertain as to when and if they will be formally unveiled.
When asked by The Tablet for comment, the USCCB said “consultations with the Holy See are ongoing.”