Bishop Cary echoed Bishop Olson’s concern that McCarrick was still technically qualified as a welcome participant at the conference.
“If McCarrick were to come to this microphone would he be allowed to speak?” Cary asked, noting that there was no open microphone for his victims.
In addition to the specific problem of Archbishop McCarrick, the bishops also discussed how they could proceed more generally in the light of the Holy See’s intervention to prevent them from voting to adopt the proposed Standards for Episcopal Conduct or to create an independent special commission to investigate allegations against bishops.
Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange summed up the dilemma facing the conference.
“We cannot just sit back and do nothing,” he told the bishops. If a deliberative vote was not possible, he said, the bishops needed to at least take “some sort of consultative vote” to show that the American bishops were firmly resolved among themselves.
Bishop Robert Christian, auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, expressed the frustrations of many bishops at the inability of the conference to act.
He pointed out that as several scandals broke over the summer “the leadership of this conference was blocked from either working in partnership with the Holy See or leaving it to us in the dioceses.”
Christian said that he was concerned by the Holy See’s intervention. He observed that it could take months for the Vatican to produce a final resolution after the February meeting of the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences in Rome. This could mean, he said, that the U.S. bishops could find it still “impossible” to act in March, or even June, of next year.
“It is all the more important to vote today as if we were voting on a policy,” he said, so that both the faithful and the Holy See could see the clear mind of the bishops.
Despite the support of many on the conference hall for the original proposal for an independent commission to receive and investigate allegations against bishops, a few bishops have suggested they would prefer to see a different system altogether.
Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah proposed that Rome should instead be asked to consider amending canon law to give metropolitan archbishops an expanded role and authority for dealing with allegations against bishops in their province. His proposal was echoed by Bishop Robert Coerver of Lubbock.
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Hartmayer noted that it might be better for accusations against a bishop to be considered by “a jury of their peers” since, he said, “no one understands a bishop so much as another bishop.”
He also said that bishops owed each other the “courtesy” of listening “to one of our brothers who has misbehaved in some way.”
While the majority of the interventions from the floor were concerned with what direct action the conference could take, others were more reflective.
Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond gave a long and clearly personal reflection on the pain experienced by priests and laity alike in his former diocese, Washington.
Knestout said that he looked upon the current scandals on a continuum of previous crises, stretching back 50 years to the promulgation of Humanae vitae, saying that the rejection by many clergy of that document, and the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life and sexuality, had caused “one long crisis of leadership and teaching” in the Church.
Despite the clear and forceful calls by several bishops for some clear statement on the case of Archbishop McCarrick, when the bishops resumed their seats after breaking for lunch they voted down a resolution to “encourage” the Holy See to release whatever documents it could on McCarrick.