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U.S. Catholic Bishops Told to 'Wait' on Reforms

Mary Rose Madden

This story aired on NPR's Morning Edition.

Hundreds of Catholic bishops meeting in Baltimore this week were expecting to vote on concrete measures to address clergy sex abuse. But as their meeting got underway, the Vatican told the U.S. bishops not to take any action yet. 


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had been working on a code of conduct for dealing with abuse and an independent commission that would review bishops accused of violating that code.

They began working on those measures in a year when the church was rocked by scandal. A prominent cardinal resigned in June over sexual abuse allegations. A Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August revealed that more than 300 priests had abused at least 1,000 children over the years and that bishops had simply moved those "predatory priests" from one parish to another rather than disciplining them. In October, the archbishop of Washington resigned in connection with the scandal.

Now, the bishops will have to wait until an international meeting of church leaders at the Vatican in February.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, of Gavelston-Houston, who leads the bishops' conference, called the move to delay the vote “quizzical,” and said the bishops were surprised.

"We are not ourselves happy about this," he told reporters. "We are working very hard to move to action and we will do it. We just have a bump in the road."

He said he thinks Pope Francis supports the U.S bishops initiative, but that he wants the global church to act in unison.

"When I met with the Holy Father in October, the Holy Father was very positive in a general way...of the kind of action items we were looking to do," he said.

This is the first official meeting of the U.S. bishops since the Pennsylvania grand jury report showed how vast the problem is and laid bare the underlying structures of secrecy that made clergy seem more concerned about protecting each other and the institution rather than protecting children.  

John McKeon, from East Chester, New York, stood on Aliceanna Street, outside the Waterfront Marriott where the bishops were meeting holding a black and white sign with "REPENT RESIGN" in all capital letters.

"I had to come here to raise awareness, " he said. "This is my church and I want it back. "Survivors have experienced indescribale pain and for bishops that covered up for abuse and transferred abusers around - to still be in office just makes the pain even worse."

McKeon, who says he's not an activist and that this is the first time he's demonstrated over the scandal, says he wasn't surprised by the delay and that he continues to be disappointed in how the sex abuse crisis is handled.

"It looks like the bishops are doing nothing," he said, which leads some to wonder if a climate of cover up is still in place.