Jan 19, 2019
Something that happened at a bishops' meeting nearly half a century ago raises questions about the Vatican's action last month telling the U.S. bishops to cancel a scheduled vote on two proposals for self-policing on sex abuse. It also illustrates the built-in tension between two interlocking principles – "primacy" and "synodality" – that today are increasingly shaping the Church.
The earlier incident is recounted in my book about secrecy in the Church, Nothing to Hide (Ignatius). It occurred just before the general meeting of the American hierarchy held in April of 1972 in Atlanta. Five months earlier, the bishops had voted to set aside their practice of meeting behind closed doors and open the proceedings to the media and observers. As director of media relations for the bishops' conference, I was one of those who'd argued for this step.
On the eve of the spring general assembly, the administrative committee of the bishops' conference met to review the agenda. At a coffee break, Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia, who'd been elected conference president the previous November, approached me holding a sheet of paper and looking angry.
The Cardinal had a reputation for being tough. But he also was notably fair man with a wry sense of humor. "I just got this message from Rome," he said. "They're very worried at the idea that the bishops are going to allow reporters in. They want me to prevent it. You know very well that I opposed the idea from the start. But the bishops voted for it, and it's my job as president of the conference to see that their decision is carried out – and I will."