Vatican orders US bishops to delay sex abuse reforms

The US Catholic leadership has faced virulent criticism recently over its handling of sexual abuse cases (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

Baltimore (AFP) - The Vatican has told the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to delay a vote, set to take place at their annual meeting, on measures to halt sexual abuse by priests.

On the eve of the conference, US bishop leaders received a Vatican order demanding they wait to vote until after a global summit on sex abuse set to take place in Rome in February, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo announced Monday in his opening remarks.

Speaking on his "disappointment" with the decision, DiNardo said: "We are working very hard to move to action."

"And we'll do it. We just have a bump in the road," he added at the conference in Baltimore, Maryland being held through Wednesday.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, said the Vatican's decision aimed to make sure that "our decisions can be informed by listening to our brother bishops from around the world."

But he also called for an interim, informal vote ahead of next year's gathering.

"It is clear that the Holy See recognizes the urgency of this issue, and is placing great importance on the February meeting, understanding that the present crisis is not limited to one or a few countries, but that it is a watershed moment for the universal Church."

After virulent criticism of its handling of cases of sexual abuse by priests, the US bishops' conference had announced in October several key measures that were to be put to a vote.

American clergy leaders proposed a new code of conduct, alert mechanism and investigative committee led by people who do not belong to the American Catholic Church.

In August, a grand jury report revealed credible child sex abuse allegations against more than 300 priests in Pennsylvania for crimes on at least 1,000 children.

The report described a Church hierarchy that often actively seeks to cover up cases of sexual abuse and protect the aggressors.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, was repeatedly cited as one of the Church leaders who helped to cover up the scandal.

Wuerl's predecessor in Washington, Theodore McCarrick, resigned from the Vatican's College of Cardinals in July.

McCarrick, one of the most high-profile Catholic leaders to face abuse claims, was accused of sexually abusing a teenager nearly five decades earlier.

In October, the bishops' conference announced the launch of a hotline to report abuses.

Some 6,721 priests have been accused of sexual abuse in the United States for alleged acts that took place between 1950 to 2016, according to the group Bishop Accountability.

It counts around 18,565 child victims.