I have recently returned from the annual fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It was at this meeting that the U.S. bishops were prepared to address in a strong manner the current crisis in the Church, a crisis that revolves around the bishops themselves and the negligent handling of cases of sexual abuse and misconduct in the past.

Judging from all of the mail I have received over the crisis, the lay faithful were rightly demanding a response and action on the part of the bishops. What in fact transpired at the meeting left many disappointed, including myself. In this column, I will try to explain what happened.

The U.S. bishops had developed a plan of action that they were prepared to vote on that would have charted a way forward. I went back and looked at what I said in my first letter to the people of the Archdiocese of Portland over this crisis, in which I laid out what I thought needed to be done to address the current crisis and what we needed to do in moving forward. As I studied the plan proposed by the leadership of the USCCB, it hit all of my points except one, namely a thorough and transparent outside investigation of the Archbishop Theodore McCarrick scandal. I will come back to that.

The plan proposed by the bishops included four components:

 • A code of standards of episcopal conduct and accountability. This would have essentially voluntarily placed each bishop under the same standards and accountability that are already in place for priests and deacons in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. This code goes even further as it would have covered not only the sexual abuse of a minor by a bishop, but also sexual misconduct by a bishop with an adult, sexual harassment of an adult by a bishop, and the mishandling of allegations of misconduct received by bishops against priests, deacons or other bishops. Each bishop would have signed a personal pledge to live by these standards and procedures.

• A completely independent third party reporting system to receive any allegations of violations by a bishop of the above described code of standards. This would essentially have been a confidential way for anyone wishing to bring an allegation forward by using a toll free number or web access point. This “hotline” would operate independently from the bishops.

• The establishment of a lay led commission for the review of complaints against bishops for violations of the standards for episcopal conduct described above. This also would have been a separate commission established as a civil 501.c.3 and completely independent from the bishops. They would conduct a preliminary investigation into the allegation and make a report to the papal nuncio.

• A new protocol regarding restrictions on bishops who were removed from or resigned their office due to the sexual abuse of minors, sexual misconduct with adults, or grave negligence in office.

Well, that’s what we were prepared to discuss, refine and vote on at our November meeting. At the 11th hour, however, the Holy See (the Vatican) intervened. The Holy See directed the U.S. bishops not to vote on any of these proposals. The Holy See had possession of our plan for weeks before our meeting, but our conference president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, was informed only the afternoon before our meeting started that we were not to vote on our plan.

Instead, Pope Francis has called a meeting of the all the presidents of the bishops’ conferences from throughout the world in Rome. This meeting is scheduled for February of 2019. The Holy Father wants to discuss this whole matter in this wider context before any action is taken by an individual country such as the U.S. was planning to do. He appears to want a more universal and consistent practice in the whole worldwide Church.

Many of us were shocked and disappointed by this intervention and delay. Nevertheless, the U.S. bishops went ahead and discussed the above plan and documents as we would have if we were to vote on them, and some refinement of the plan was accomplished. But in the end, we could not actually vote on them, out of obedience to the directive of the Holy See. In all honesty, some good may have come from the delay, since other options were presented and discussed that we would not have had the time to decide on during the short two-and-a-half days of debate and vote.

The one piece that was missing from all of this was an independent and transparent investigation of the Archbishop McCarrick scandal. Cardinal DiNardo, along with many other bishops, including myself, called for this early on, especially in light of testimony by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former papal nuncio in the United States. The Holy See is conducting what it promises will be a thorough investigation of the matter.

Some of us wanted more, and a resolution was offered by a bishop to encourage the Holy See to release to the public all of the documentation related to the alleged misconduct of Archbishop McCarrick. I spoke in favor of this resolution. In the end, the resolution failed by a significant margin, the majority of the bishops preferring to leave the matter to the discretion of the Holy See.

So that is what happened at our November meeting. I will continue to advocate for full transparency and accountability in this sad affair, and I will continue do all I can to ensure the protection of children, young people and vulnerable adults here in our archdiocese.

Please pray for Pope Francis and the bishops who will gather with him in Rome in February. Pray that the Holy Spirit will guide them to a just resolution of this terrible tragedy and crisis. But pray first of all for all the victims/survivors of sexual abuse. In the midst of all this bureaucratic negotiating of a plan of response, we must never forget them and they must always be first in our concern, support, love and care.