Vatican delays vote on Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People


Courtesy of Vatican TV

Pope Benedict XVI delivering his final public blessing on Feb. 24, 2013, to a crowd of thousands at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

Kara Gravert

Bishop leadership in the United States received an order from the Vatican Sunday, forbidding the church leaders from voting on revisions that would increase accountability within the church, the night before an annual bishop’s conference.

Every fall, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gathers current and former bishops across the nation to collaborate on vital issues confronting the Church and society. This year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had the task of responding to the crisis of Catholic clergy sex abuse.

The three-day conference included presentations from survivors of abuse and a plan to vote on a package of renovations to the Dallas charter, which includes measures for handling abuse by U.S. priests, first enacted in 2002.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, kicked off their annual conference on Monday morning delivering the unexpected orders from the Vatican.

According to the database of publicly accused priests, 89 priests have been publicly accused of sexual abuse in the state of Iowa alone from 1950 to present day. With many people looking to bishops to do something, the recent Vatican orders may land as an inadequate response.

“One thing I’ve read is that the Vatican ‘shut down’ the conference,” said Father Kyle Digmann, pastor for St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center in Ames. “The Vatican did not shut anything down, they only asked [them] not to vote on a policy that would be implemented throughout the entire United States.”

The Vatican asked the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to hold off their vote until a global summit regarding the issue, scheduled for this February. The vote would have seen the charter’s fourth revision, with its latest revision enacted in June 2018.

“The Dallas charter did a good job for priests, [but] I would say bishops were not held accountable,” Digmann said.

The charter lays out clear and detailed articles for bishops to follow when allegations are brought against a priest, but the procedures surrounding allegations being brought against a bishop are not as clear.

While the charter provides essential norms for dioceses across the nation, Digmann acknowledges that methods for responding to accusations do not necessarily have to come from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“One thing that might be helpful for folks to know [is] bishops can implement a policy for their own dioceses to improve third person reporting mechanisms and to have more transparency,” Digmann said.

The state of Iowa is split into a quadrant of dioceses: Sioux City, Des Moines, Davenport and the Archdiocese of Dubuque. According to the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, each diocese is required to make accusations public to civil authorities and to comply with applicable civil laws.

Digmann shared a popular saying within the church.

“The Church is not a museum of saints, it is a field hospital for sinners.” Digmann said.

After a moment of reflection, he quietly followed up.

“We have a heck of a lot of people in that hospital … that are hurting and need help.”