Critics say focus on metropolitan bishops is flawed, won’t restore public confidence.
By Joan Frawley Desmond, National Catholic Register, March 6, 2019
WASHINGTON — Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago received a respectful hearing from Church leaders at the Vatican summit as he outlined his updated plan for deploying metropolitan bishops to investigate bishops
accused of sexual abuse and negligence.
Back home, however, there are strong indications that his proposal faces a hard sell, as Church leaders and lay experts weigh reforms designed to restore the bishops’ credibility in the wake of the McCarrick scandal.
“There are still questions about ‘who knew what’ regarding McCarrick,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, told the Register.
“And now there is simply a lack of trust about a system involving metropolitans.”
Bishop Paprocki, a canon lawyer, expressed his preference for another proposal before the consideration of the U.S. bishops that was tabled until the completion of the summit: an independent national commission presented at the USCCB meeting in November.
“I am in favor of a national commission that would be consistent” in its approach to allegations against bishops, he said.
Francesco Cesareo, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board and the president of Assumption College, was equally skeptical about a plan he described as “bishops policing bishops.”
“What confidence do we have that this proposal, even if it is obligatory, will be effective?” asked Cesareo, who also cited McCarrick’s role as a metropolitan.
“My concern is that it will try to signal a change, but, operationally, it will not be a change.”
Interview requests for Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, went unreturned. The Register was unable to secure an interview with Cardinal Cupich at press time.
Cardinal Cupich first introduced his plan during the U.S. bishops’ November 2018 meeting in Baltimore, where Church leaders were under enormous pressure to approve reforms to address systemic problems exposed by McCarrick’s unchecked misconduct and rise within the Catholic hierarchy. But the Vatican ordered the bishops to delay any action until after the February summit.
At the time, Cardinal Cupich underscored the particular strengths of his proposal, which would use the Church’s current ecclesiastical structure to improve bishop accountability.
A metropolitan archbishop is designated by the Pope and heads an ecclesiastical province, which is composed of several neighboring dioceses.
The other dioceses in the province are headed by suffragan bishops, and the longest serving of this group is the senior suffragan (subordinate) bishop.
Cardinal Cupich proposed that the metropolitan archbishop oversee an investigation of an accused suffragan bishop, while the actual investigative work would be conducted by one or more established lay review boards — possibly one based in the metropolitan’s own archdiocese and the other in the diocese of the accused.
Canon 436 of the Code of Canon Law already authorizes the metropolitan archbishop to make sure “faith and ecclesiastical discipline are carefully observed and to notify the Roman pontiff if there are any abuses.”
If the metropolitan archbishop himself faced accusations, according to Cardinal Cupich’s plan, the senior suffragan bishop or the metropolitan from a neighboring province would oversee an inquiry.