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U.S. Bishops Delay Response To Sexual Abuse Crisis At Vatican's Insistence

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hundreds of Catholic bishops meeting in Baltimore this week were expecting to vote on concrete measures to address clergy sex abuse. But as the meeting got underway, the Vatican stepped in and told the bishops not to take any action yet. From member station WYPR in Baltimore, Mary Rose Madden reports.

MARY ROSE MADDEN, BYLINE: 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 these measures in earnest after a Pennsylvania grand jury in August revealed widespread abuse and that bishops had moved predatory priests from one parish to another. But now the bishops will have to wait until an international meeting of church leaders at the Vatican in February. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, of Galveston-Houston, leads the bishops' conference. He says the order to delay came from Rome itself. He thinks Pope Francis is supportive of what the U.S. bishops are putting forward but wants the global church to act in unison.

DANIEL DINARDO: When I met with the Holy Father in October, the Holy Father was very positive in a general way - you know, he hadn't seen everything yet - of the kind of action items we were looking to do.

MADDEN: This is the first official meeting of the U.S. bishops since the Pennsylvania grand jury report. It showed how vast the problem was, including structures of secrecy that made clergy seem more concerned about protecting each other and the institution rather than protecting children. John McKeon, from Eastchester, N.Y., was outside the bishops meeting holding a black-and-white sign that read repent, resign - in all caps.

JOHN MCKEON: Survivors have experienced indescribable pain. And for bishops that covered up for abuse and transferred abusers around to still be in office just makes that pain even worse.

MADDEN: McKeon says it looks like the bishops are doing nothing. And that leads many to wonder if a climate of cover-up is still in place. Bishop DiNardo says the move to delay the vote was quizzical and that even the bishops gathered in Baltimore were surprised.

DINARDO: We are not ourselves happy about this. We are working very hard to move to action. And we'll do it. We just have a bump in the road.

MADDEN: The problem with the U.S. bishops' plan could be that the Vatican wants worldwide guidelines for accountability and preventing abuse rather than a country-by-country approach. For NPR News, I'm Mary Rose Madden in Baltimore.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUNIP'S "NACKROSDAMMEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.