Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, celebrates Mass Nov. 12 at the fall general assembly of the USCCB in Baltimore. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, celebrates Mass Nov. 12 at the fall general assembly of the USCCB in Baltimore. CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE – What was not voted on by the U.S. bishops at their fall general meeting in Baltimore is likely to overshadow what was discussed as they engage in three days of public sessions.

At the request of the Vatican, the vote to create a new commission to handle allegations of sexual misconduct by bishops was postponed for their Nov. 12-14 meeting. So, too, was a vote for a new set of standards of episcopal conduct, although both items will still be discussed.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the request came from the Vatican Congregation for Bishops. The reasons given for the delay was Pope Francis' planned meeting in February with the presidents of bishops' conferences worldwide to deal with clergy sex abuse, and to be sure that the proposals being considered by the bishops conform to canon law.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago called for a special assembly in March to weigh and vote on the measures after being informed by the outcome of the February meeting in Rome.

"It is clear that the Holy See is taking seriously the abuse crisis in the Church," Cardinal Cupich said, adding that the February meeting was a "watershed moment" in Church history. "We need to be clear where we stand and tell our people where we stand," he said.

In his presidential address to the USCCB, Cardinal DiNardo took note of the historic nature of the meeting.

"Whether we will be remembered as guardians of the abused or of the abuser will be determined by our action beginning this week and the months ahead," he said. "Let us draw near to Christ today sacrificing him our own ambitions and promptly submit ourselves totally to what he demands of us both in love and justice."

He also held up his own weakness to victims in his remarks, saying, "Where I have not been watchful or alert to your needs, wherever I have failed, I am deeply sorry."

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States – who met privately with Pope Francis just two days before his Nov. 12 address to the bishops – urged them to face the issue of clergy sexual abuse straight on, not to run from the challenges that confront them but "face them realistically and courageously."

He added, "There is always more to do, and we bishops must not be afraid to get our hands dirty in doing that work,” he said, urging them to collaborate with the laity but to face the current crisis both individually and as a group first and foremost.

Most of the first day was set aside for prayer and reflection by the bishops in a makeshift chapel at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront.

During this time, the bishops heard from speakers, including two survivors of child sexual abuse, Luis A. Torres Jr. and Teresa Pitt Green. While they remain active in the Church, both spoke of the emotional pain they have lived with. They also said the Church can and must do better on addressing sexual abuse.

The bishops also heard from two Catholic women Church leaders who urged them to work with each other and the laity to move forward from this moment when the Church is reeling from abuse allegations.

Outside the hotel, protesters gathered to call for change and urge action by the bishops to address the widening sexual abuse crisis.

Contributing to this story were Dennis Sadowski, Carol Zimmermann and Rhina Guidos in Baltimore, and Mark Pattison in Washington.