Archbishop Allen Vigneron spoke on behalf of the USCCB Executive Committee, which was responsible for the plan for a special commission.
Acknowledging that, following the instruction of the Holy See, there was no scope to reach a final consensus on what system would be best, Cardinal Cupich’s proposal, along with other amendments to the plan for the independent commission, had been included together and would be given to the special “task force” formed of three past USCCB presidents, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Archbishop Wilton Gregory.
This task force will consider the relative merits of the two now-rival proposals, and offer a more detailed consideration when next the bishops meet, either in March or June 2019.
While no firm action on either proposal is possible before the conclusion of the February meeting of the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences called by Pope Francis, the bishops did have some preliminary exchanges about what they saw as the relative merits of the special commission versus Cardinal Cupich’s detailed alternative.
Those in favor of the new plan observed that it might better reflect existing Church structures and might more easily fit within existing canon law.
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said that he could see the merits of the Cupich plan, but was concerned that, in the light of recent scandals, it could not be proposed “with any credibility.”
The entire purpose of the independent commission was, he said, to make a “strong statement” of independence and transparency. Soto even suggested that the plan for a special commission might be improved by removing all clerical or episcopal membership or involvement.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield also expressed “a couple of concerns” about the metropolitan model.
Paprocki noted that such a model appeared to lack the independence which was the driving force behind the proposal for an independent commission.
“I would remind everyone that Archbishop McCarrick was a metropolitan,” Paprocki said. He pointed out that seminarians allegedly abused by McCarrick felt that they could not come forward with a complaint against their own archbishop.
“Would they have trusted this process if it meant going to the senior suffragan bishop instead?” Paprocki asked.
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He also noted that asking the senior suffragan bishop to offer an opinion for or against allegations against their metropolitan “raises questions” about the independence of the plan.
“I thought what we were trying to do here was to put in place a system to fix what was not working. The whole point of the special commission was that it is not part of any diocese or province,” Paprocki said.
Bishops Cozzens, an auxiliary of St. Paul-Minneapolis, suggested that some version of the metropolitan model could perhaps be implemented right away, with diocesan bishops simply announcing that any complaints against them could be sent to their metropolitan archbishop.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo brought the day’s proceedings to a close, saying that the bishops had arrived in Baltimore following the summer’s scandals with three goals: “to do what we could to get to the bottom of the Archbishop McCarrick situation; to make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier; and, to develop a means of holding ourselves accountable that was genuinely independent, duly authorized, and had substantial lay involvement.”
DiNardo said that he considered the bishops “on course” with all three priorities, and that he looked forward to the February meeting in Rome, with expectations that it would make the U.S. bishops’ “local efforts more global.”
While many of the bishops remain frustrated at their own inability to leave Baltimore with even a common expression of intent, DiNardo said that although he had begun the session on Monday with disappointment, “I end the meeting with hope, first of all grounded in Christ.”