Many American bishops arrived in Baltimore this week expecting to approve the proposed the independent commission, along with proposed standards for episcopal conduct. Bishops were stunned to discover Monday that they could not vote on the measures, following the last-minute instruction from the Congregation for Bishops, received Sunday night by conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo.
An Archdiocese of Washington official suggested to CNA that the Congregation for Bishops' last minute suspension of voting at the Baltimore meeting might have been because the conference's independent commission proposal was not sent to Rome until Oct. 30.
DiNardo, however, told a press conference Monday that while the draft document for the independent commission had been sent to Rome at the end of October, the USCCB had been in consistent contact with Vatican officials as the texts were developed.
DiNardo said that "When we were in Rome [in October] we consulted with all of [the Vatican dicasteries]. I mean, [that's what] we do."
"When I met with the Holy Father in October, the Holy Father was very positive in a general way - he had not seen everything yet - of the kind of action items we were looking to do."
Cupich spoke from the floor immediately after DiNardo's announcement of the change Monday morning. The cardinal suggested that the bishops continue to discuss the proposed measures and take non-binding votes on them. He offered no indication at that time that he would introduce a completely different plan.
By Tuesday afternoon, the Chicago cardinal rose to question the premise of the USCCB's proposed independent commission, asking if it was a reflection of sound ecclesiology. Cupich suggested that the commission could be seen as a way of "outsourcing" difficult situations.
Shortly thereafter, Cupich submitted to conference leaders a seemingly well-prepared and comprehensive "Supplement to the [USCCB] Essential Norms," which outlined in detail the plan he had developed with Wuerl.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said from the floor that the "metropolitan model" appeared to align closer with the Church's hierarchical structure.
"I really do favor the use of the metropolitan and the metropolitan review board for these cases… but that would require that the Holy See give metropolitan archbishops more authority than we have," Chaput told the conference.
Chaput told the bishop that the reason the USCCB executive committee opted to pursue the idea of an independent commission instead of developing a plan based around the metropolitan archbishop was because they did not think the "metropolitan model' would have support in Rome.
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"When we discussed this at the executive committee level we, some people, thought it would be easier for us to develop this independent commission than to get the Church to change canon law," he said.
Sources close to the USCCB told CNA that if the executive committee had known the Vatican might support the "metropolitan model," it might have been pursued earlier, with a proposal being circulated to members by the conference leadership. A spokesperson for the USCCB declined to comment on that possibility.
Cupich had suggested during the meeting that either or both plans could be voted on in non-binding resolutions in order to give the Vatican a sense of the American episcopate's desires. Ultimately, no vote was taken.
Instead, as the Baltimore meeting ended, DiNardo agreed that Cupich's plan would be developed alongside the independent commission plan, by a special task force consisting of former USCCB presidents Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, and Archbishop Wilton Gregory. DiNardo will have the option of presenting either or both possibilities when he and conference vice president Archbishop Jose Gomez attend the Vatican's February meeting.
USCCB spokespersons declined several times to comment on any role Cupich or Wuerl, members of the Congregation for Bishops, might have played in developing the congregation's reaction to the special commission plan.
Ed. note: This story was updated after publication to explain that metropolitans under investigation would be investigated by their senior suffragan bishops.