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USCCB policies don't support Cupich rebuke of Gomez letter

Cardinal Blase Cupich took issue on Wednesday with the process of drafting and publishing a statement released by the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference; the statement criticized the policy agenda of incoming President Joe Biden.

But bishops told The Pillar they saw no irregularities in the drafting process, and Cupich has declined to elaborate on his procedural concerns.

Cardinal Blase Cupich speaks at a 2019 assembly of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Credit: USCCB/youtube

Even before it was published, the cardinal is widely reported to have objected to the emphasis and tone of the statement, which said that Biden’s agenda on abortion and gender would promote “moral evils.”  After Cupich raised objections, Vatican officials intervened to shelf the statement, a move which ultimately delayed its release but did not stop it.

But when Cupich issued a statement Wednesday afternoon — or really, issued a tweet thread — he mostly raised objections to the statement on procedural grounds.

Cupich claimed that Gomez should have sought the consultation of the USCCB’s administrative committee before publishing a statement like the one that he released Jan 2.

“The statement was crafted without the involvement of the Administrative Committee, a collegial consultation that is normal course for statements that represent and enjoy the considered endorsement of the American bishops,” Cupich tweeted.

The cardinal blamed “internal institutional failures” on the release of a statement he believed had been crafted with insufficient consultation.

The U.S. bishops’ conference declined to comment on questions from The Pillar regarding Cupich’s claim. But The Pillar spoke with several bishops regarding the matter.

Bishops told The Pillar that Cupich’s procedural concerns reflect neither the policy nor the customary practices of the USCCB.

The Pillar obtained text of the official policy of the bishops’ conference on statements from the conference president: “In circumstances of special urgency, the President of USCCB may issue statements in his own name as President. Circumstances permitting, he should first consult with the Executive Committee and with the appropriate USCCB chairman or chairmen.”

The president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer of the USCCB are members of the conference’s executive committee, along with Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who is an at-large member elected from the larger administrative committee.

The Pillar has confirmed that Gomez consulted with members of the executive committee before his Jan. 20 statement was released, and with several other USCCB chairmen, who served on a special working group on the Biden administration that Gomez announced in November.

Several bishops told The Pillar they believe it unnecessary for the conference president to also consult with the organization’s administrative committee before issuing a statement released in his own name, and do not regard it as the normal or customary course of business for the conference.

The USCCB’s administrative committee consists of nearly 40 bishop members: the chairmen of all USCCB committees, and a representative from each of the 15 “regions” of the bishops’ conference. The administrative committee is mostly responsible for setting the agenda of conference meetings, and reviewing letters, statements, and other documents that will go under consideration for approval by the entire assembly of bishops.

Bishops told The Pillar that consulting the entire administrative committee before releasing a statement would be a time-consuming process, and an unusual step for a statement released under the signature of the conference president. They also pointed out that it would far exceed the requirements of USCCB policy on the subject.

The Pillar asked Cupich to clarify his procedural objections to the statement’s release, asking specifically whether the cardinal believed Gomez failed to observe some custom, protocol, or procedure pertaining to the release of a presidential statement, or if Cupich believed instead that some other type of USCCB statement — one that might have customarily gone through an administrative committee consultation process — might have been more appropriately released on Jan. 20.

The Pillar also asked whether Cupich had substantive concerns about the statement from Gomez, or whether he objected only to the procedure used in its release.

The cardinal did not respond to The Pillar’s request for clarity.