ROME – After days of speculation as to when the leadership of the U.S. bishops’ conference would meet Pope Francis to lay out a plan for investigating the scandal surrounding ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and why it was taking so long, the Vatican announced late Tuesday that the encounter will take place Thursday, Sept. 13.
A brief communique from Vatican spokesman Greg Burke indicated that Francis will receive Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. conference, along with Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the Vice President; Monsignor Brian Bransfield, the conference’s secretary; and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Notably, Burke’s statement did not make any reference to the subject of Thursday’s encounter, which is set for noon Rome time (6:00 a.m. on the East Coast.)
However, it’s been clear the U.S. prelates wanted to get Francis’s sign-off on a plan for a probe into McCarrick since August 16, almost a month ago, when DiNardo released a statement to that effect.
That statement came just two days after release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that pointed to more than 300 predator priests, and more than 1,000 child victims, in six dioceses over a 70-year span.
It also came three weeks after Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals, an exceedingly rare step, following a charge that he had sexually abused a minor altar boy. In the period that followed, it became clear that rumors about McCarrick’s misconduct with seminarians and young priests had circulated for some time, yet not impeded his movement up the Church’s career ladder.
Specifically, DiNardo said in the August 16 statement that the bishops intend to propose an “Apostolic Visitation,” meaning an official Vatican probe in which one or more “visitors” are named to carry out an inquiry in the name of the pope.
The bishops said they would propose that the visitation work “in concert” with a group of predominantly lay people identified by the bishops’ own National Review Board, which advises them on preventing child sexual abuse, which would be “empowered to act.”
“Whatever the details may turn out to be regarding Archbishop McCarrick or the many abuses in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else), we already know that one root cause is the failure of episcopal leadership,” DiNardo said. “The result was that scores of beloved children of God were abandoned to face an abuse of power alone.”
“This is a moral catastrophe,” he said.
It’s not clear whether any such visitation would also consider questions about what the Vatican knew regarding concerns about McCarrick, and when it knew it.
Those questions have become especially explosive in the wake of a recent accusation by Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former papal ambassador in the U.S., that he personally briefed Francis about those concerns in June 2013 and the pontiff essentially ignored them.