On the one month anniversary of explosive charges against Pope Francis’ handling of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s history of abuse, it has become clear that the U.S. bishops’ request for a Vatican-led investigation will not move forward, leading the prelates to ponder what comes next.

Last month, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò alleged in an 11-page “testimonial” that Pope Francis was not only aware of McCarrick’s history of abuse, but that Francis had removed sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI. This led to the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, to double down on his request to meet with Pope Francis in hopes of a Vatican-led investigation into how McCarrick climbed the ranks of leadership within the Church.

On September 13, DiNardo, along with USCCB vice-president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and Monsignor Brian Bransfield, general secretary of the conference, were granted a much-anticipated audience with Pope Francis.

Even though, as he told Crux, O’Malley was there mostly as an “observer,” he’s the one who handed the pontiff the letter from American bishops requesting the meeting.

Following that meeting, the USCCB released a statement in which they said they had shared with Francis “how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse,” and termed it a “lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.”

The specifics of what happened inside that meeting, however, remained sketchy. Yet during interviews with more than two-dozen bishops in Rome and the United States, along with more than a dozen high-ranking Vatican officials and USCCB personnel, a clearer picture has emerged as to what the next steps will be as the American bishops seek to find answers, to right past wrongs, and to set a new course of action in Church policy toward protecting minors and vulnerable adults.

In the Room Where it Happened

Going into the meeting with Francis, the desired outcome was an official Vatican investigation into McCarrick known as an “apostolic visitation.” DiNardo announced that during a news conference after release of a statement from the USCCB on Aug. 16.

Several sources have confirmed that the pontiff made a “counter-offer,” suggesting instead that the bishops suspend their upcoming November meeting in favor of a week-long Ignatian-style retreat. At the moment, the USCCB administrative committee is inclined to let the plans for its fall assembly stand, adding only a one-day retreat on Sunday and a possible lengthier retreat at a date yet to be determined.

With no apostolic visitation in sight, Crux has learned that the USCCB has opted for an investigation led primarily by lay individuals, in cooperation with the U.S. bishops, that will focus on the four dioceses in which McCarrick served: New York; Metuchen, New Jersey; Newark; and Washington, D.C.

Such an investigation, however, will be limited to the voluntary cooperation of the four dioceses involved as the USCCB does not possess canonical authority to mandate compliance.

Meanwhile, on September 10, the Vatican announced that it would soon release “necessary clarifications” on McCarrick. Sources have indicated that the process of collecting information on the McCarrick case is being led by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who was part of the entourage of Pope Francis’ Sept. 22-25 visit to the Baltics.

Full story at Crux.