With 5 Days until the US bishops sit for their most consequential Fall Plenary in a generation, a full preview’s in the works. For now, one aspect stands out.
Lest anyone hasn’t already noticed, after moving at a striking clip for the last two years, American Catholicism’s second round of an all-out abuse storm has seen the nation’s appointment docket essentially grind to a halt.
Since the end of the Vatican’s summer recess, just one pick has come from the Pope: the Twin Cities pastor and seminary don Juan Miguel Betancourt, all of 48, shipped across the country in mid-September as auxiliary bishop of Hartford.
There are several reasons for the slow-down, but well among them, the DC Nunciature’s usual bandwidth has ostensibly been sucked up with handling the various and widespread aspects of the crisis’ fallout (not all of which have likely emerged as yet). Yet when it comes to the docket itself, another extraordinary thing has quietly taken hold: as of this writing, no less than five vacant Stateside dioceses are either currently or just have been under investigation, civil or canonical alike.
All but one are focused on the scandals – and one happens to be the nation’s capital, to boot.
Beyond the archdiocese of Washington – now the focus of an investigation by the DC attorney general, and as the local US Attorney’s Office likewise moves toward its own process as Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s succession is decided – the others are Las Cruces and Saginaw (both under newly opened statewide probes in the wake of August’s Pennsylvania grand-jury report), Wheeling-Charleston (under both a Roman inquest over the misconduct claims that forced the resignation of Bishop Michael Bransfield, as well as a subsequent state-level subpoena of files), and Memphis (where – regardless of who he might blame in televised apparitions – Bishop Martin Holley’s ill-advised management triggered an A-list apostolic visitation in June that spurred his removal from office at 63 last month).
As if that wasn’t enough, the list is set to grow: given the ongoing “tsunami” in Buffalo over Bishop Richard Malone’s handling of cases – which has seen the embattled prelate’s former secretary and his canonical adviser both seek recourse to 60 Minutes, while no less than Francis’ lead aide on child protection has openly sensed “just so many violations of the [Dallas] Charter” in the debacle – it seems increasingly palpable that the 72 year-old Harvard man (a onetime auxiliary to Cardinal Bernard Law) won’t be able to survive a sea of hurdles.
In a normal time, filling just one of these hotspots would be difficult… but in case it wasn’t already clear: This. Is. Not. Normal.
Rome’s picks to start righting the ship represent not merely the Pope’s Stateside “Midterm,” but arguably – in terms of the largest religious body on these shores – the singular defining task of Francis’ pontificate.
To be sure, you won’t be hearing about this on the Floor next week – at least, not during the open sessions… yet once the “flock of shepherds” leaves the ballroom, it’s all very fair game.
Full story at Whispers in the Loggia.