College students respond to Vatican’s cancellation of USCCB vote on bishop accountability


The news from Monday, Nov. 12, that the Vatican had effectively canceled the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ efforts to vote on bishop accountability reform shocked Catholics across the country, leaving many of them frustrated and concerned.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, announced the Vatican’s request to not vote on the proposals at the beginning of the USCCB’s fall general assembly.

The USCCB had planned to vote on a proposed a code of conduct for bishops and the creation of a lay person panel to investigate claims of misconduct or negligence by bishops. Instead, the Vatican asked the USCCB to wait until after a February 2019 meeting between Pope Francis and presidents of bishop conferences from around the world.

Reports soon came in that many bishops were frustrated with the Vatican’s apparent interference, a sentiment joined in by Catholics from across the country, both priests and laity.

Students at Franciscan University of Steubenville were not immune to reacting. Almost immediately, students began expressing their frustrations on social media and in conversation with their fellow students.

“Why is the Vatican choosing this,” junior Joshua Nelson asked himself. “Why would this drastic course of action be taken by the Vatican over the U.S. Bishops? This choice does leave many unanswered questions as to why the Vatican took this seemingly extreme measure.”

Nelson was one of several students who had been following the U.S. bishops’ responses to the allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report that came out over the summer. He had high expectations that the USCCB would be able to respond but said he can only hope the Vatican and USCCB will work side-to-side to respond to the calls of the laity for reform.

The Vatican’s request also caused some to doubt its sincerity in responding to the sex abuse scandals and left them with more questions than answers.

Senior Mark Spinnenweber said stopping the USCCB’s vote was problematic because “it shows that the Vatican really does not understand how serious the issue is and that it isn’t simply a PR mess.”

“(The Vatican) talks about ‘synodality’ and ‘decentralization’ when it comes to giving communion to people who are divorced and remarried without an annulment,” Spinnenweber said, “but when it comes to a national crisis of sexual abuse, suddenly the local response is overruled because the guilty parties are buddies with the Pope.”

Zelie McLain, also a senior, felt similarly, saying, “We have already been waiting since August for someone to say anything. No one expects results overnight, but no one wants even more months of waiting.”

Others said postponing the decision was a good decision, such as sophomore Ketrina Clemons, who said that waiting until February allowed time for bishops around the world to gather “all necessary and pertinent information.”

Nelson agreed, saying, “I do not think that the request is problematic in the fact it is a request, it is the possible implications concerning the entire situation as a whole that is causing the concern.”

The students said their frustration was compounded by how important of an issue the bishop accountability standards were.

“The evidence of corruption is so clear that addressing it (Monday) is necessary to show that some among them care,” said Spinnenweber.

McLain added, saying, “The bishops should have said something now. With more reports coming out, I think the bishops should have realized that giving a substantial response right now would help restore faith in our bishops.”

Another worry for the students is what impact, if any, the February meeting of bishops will have on responding to the crisis in the U.S. Church. Some said they expect it to be public relations stunt and others said it would be too little, too late.

“Quite frankly, the Church universally is so disappointed in what has occurred that it may be too late to salvage or reform a very broken nation,” Clemons said. “These scandals have given reason for a majority of young people to leave the Catholic Church.”

Junior Nick O’Brien was more optimistic, saying he expected the Vatican’s response in February to “accomplish more fully what the USCCB was trying to accomplish.”

While many students wished the USCCB would ignore the Vatican’s request, O’Brien said that it would be an imprudent move.

“The USCCB is under the authority of the Vatican,” he said. “In order … to keep the Church unified, I think the USCCB can state their disapproval but not go against their request.”

Others, however, disagreed. Senior Jeremiah Poff suggested the bishops pass a non-binding resolution for the bishop accountability proposals while also passing a resolution expressing their displeasure with the Vatican.

Spinnenweber went farther, saying, “The bishops might answer to the pope, but he’s not supposed to be a totalitarian dictator.”

Whatever their opinion, the students agreed that they had a responsibility to take action, regardless of whether the USCCB did.

“We should live the faith,” O’Brien said. “Let’s, the laymen and the clergy, reflect our desire to change and make a change with the way we act now.”