Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington collaborated extensively on a recently proposed policy for handling abuse allegations against bishops, CNA has learned.
Cupich submitted the plan Tuesday to leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference, proffering it as an alternative to a proposal that had been devised by conference officials and staffers.
The conference’s proposed plan would have established an independent lay-led commission to investigate allegations against bishops. The Cupich-Wuerl plan would instead send allegations against bishops to be investigated by their metropolitan archbishops, along with archdiocesan review boards. Metropolitans themselves would be investigated by their senior suffragan bishops.
Sources in Rome and Washington, DC told CNA that Wuerl and Cupich worked together on their alternative plan for weeks, and presented it to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops before the U.S. bishops’ conference assembly in Baltimore. Cupich and Wuerl are both members of Congregation for Bishops.
The Cupich-Wuerl plan was submitted to the U.S. bishops even after a Vatican directive was issued Monday barring U.S. bishops from voting on any abuse-related measures. The Vatican suspended USCCB policy-making on sexual abuse until after a February meeting involving the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world.
An official at the Congregation for Bishops told CNA on Thursday that the substance of the plan presented by Cupich at the Baltimore meeting is known in the congregation as “Wuerl’s plan.” The official would not confirm whether the congregation had received an advance copy of the document.
Senior chancery officials in Washington described the plan presented Tuesday as a collaborative effort by the cardinals, telling CNA that Wuerl and Cupich first informed the Congregation for Bishops several weeks ago about their idea for the “metropolitan model” to handle complaints against a bishop, and suggested they had continued to discuss the plan with Congregation officials since that time.
“It was a mutual effort,” one Archdiocese of Washington official told CNA.
The idea of amending USCCB policy so that allegations against a bishop would be handled by his metropolitan archbishop was first suggested by Wuerl publicly in August.
While Cupich played an active role in conference sessions this week, and proposed the detailed plan for an alternative to the conference’s special commission, Wuerl did not make any public comment on the plan, which at least some in Rome consider to be “his,” and which he first suggested in public 3 months ago.
Sources familiar with the behind-the-scenes discussions in Baltimore told CNA that Wuerl chose to step back from the plan’s presentation, providing advice and counsel but not seeking to take public credit. A spokesman for Wuerl declined to comment on that decision.
Several bishops in Baltimore told CNA that Cupich appeared to be positioning himself as an unofficial but influential policy-maker in the conference. His status would be strengthened if the plan he introduced in Baltimore gained support in Rome, they said, especially if it were favored over the plan proposed by conference officials.
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.
Full story at Catholic News Agency.