Politics & Policy

A Small Step For Budget Reform

Pretty much everyone now acknowledges that the federal budget process is broken. And in the budget bill signed in February, Congress itself acknowledged this and created a special, bicameral committee to consider changes to the budget process.

The committee, known as the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform, consists of eight senators and eight members of the House, equally divided between the two parties. It is required to report out some recommendations for budget reform by the end of this month, and members began a public markup of those recommendations earlier this week.

The rules under which the committee is required to work mean that it was never likely to produce dramatic reforms. In order to be included in the bill the committee presents to the larger Congress, a recommendation has to garner at least five Republican and five Democratic votes, and that means very few ideas will make it.

Still, budget reformers have had some hope that, by at least compelling some bipartisan discussion of key problems with the budget process, the committee could be the start of some meaningful improvements to come. It could well be that, but it is certainly looking like a slow start for now. The only significant recommendation in the bill put forward by the co-chairs of the committee is that Congress move to biennial budgeting in place of the annual budget process required by law today.

Two-year budgeting is not a significant budget reform. For one thing, Congress already does it pretty routinely. The budget resolution passed earlier this year, as well as those in 2013 and 2015, included a two-year appropriations framework. It’s not crazy for Congress to formalize what it already does informally, but neither does it make sense to call that a transformative idea. And there are certainly some real drawbacks to such budgeting, which often just ends up yielding more and bigger supplemental spending packages beyond the normal appropriations bills.

The special committee’s markup process, which began this week and will continue on Tuesday, has so far resulted in three amendments being added to the committee’s reform proposals: One would tinker slightly with the membership structure of the Senate Budget Committee; another clarifies that Congress can still pursue a reconciliation process each year even if it adopts biennial budgeting; and a third creates the option of a special “bipartisan budget resolution” in the Senate. These, too, are very modest ideas.

This modesty is understandable, especially given the structural constraints of this committee. But we should hope that this process shakes loose some greater will for a bigger transformation of the budget and appropriations process. Budgeting is central to what Congress does, and the dysfunction of the budget process is now central to the broader dysfunction of the Congress. In past eras of dysfunction, fundamental budget reform has been essential to reinvigorating Congress and reasserting its authority.

A bolder reform agenda geared to making Congress stronger could try to make the budget process more like legislative work (divided into small, discrete, concrete steps that call for bargaining over particulars) and less like executive work (consolidated into a single, large decision that calls for unity around abstractions). That would mean rethinking elements of the committee system, the work of “scorekeepers” (like the Congressional Budget Office), and even the distinction between authorizing and appropriating that now too often separates policy priorities from budgeting.

Those kinds of ideas aren’t going to come from this special committee. But hopefully its work could help to build the will required to think bigger.

Culture

“…That Has Such People In It”

In his latest column (to which I’m now a few days late), Ross Douthat once again ably takes up the question of the decadence of our culture. But for me, he also raises the question of whether some unacknowledged source of terror has gotten us here.

With his usual sharp eye for the revealing detail, Douthat notes a couple of recent bits of journalism that, from two different directions, tell a strange story about where the sexual revolution has brought us. Rather than free love (as the left might have hoped) or social chaos (as the right might have feared), he writes, many younger Americans live now in “a realm of fleeting private pleasures and lasting social isolation, of social peace purchased through sterility.”

The left and the right may not have seen this coming, he continues, but:

the one person who really saw it coming was Aldous Huxley in “Brave New World,” the essential dystopia for our times, which captured the most important feature of late-modern social life — the way that libertinism, once a radically disruptive force, could be tamed, domesticated and used to stabilize society through the mediation of technology and drugs.

This seems right. And as NR’s Kyle Smith wisely noted in another response to Douthat this week, it is Huxley’s vision, far more than the other familiar mid-century dystopia of George Orwell’s 1984, that seems to speak to our circumstances.

And yet, this reading also overlooks an essential element of Huxley’s prophecy: He thought this kind of decadence, this soul-crushing, domesticated libertinism, could only really happen as a means of escape from the horrors of a nearly apocalyptic war. The world Huxley describes lies not at the painfully ironic end of a path willingly chosen by a society that had “liberated” itself out of any genuine understanding of freedom. It is the work of an utterly totalitarian global regime offering relief from the horrors of a war that had killed untold masses and wreaked immense destruction everywhere. As Mustapha Mond, the World Controller, says in Huxley’s story:

People still went on talking about truth and beauty as though they were the sovereign goods. Right up to the time of the Nine Years’ War. That made them change their tune all right. What’s the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when the anthrax bombs are popping all around you? That was when science first began to be controlled—after the Nine Years’ War. People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life.

Again and again in the book, we find references to that war that suggest it nearly destroyed civilization. And it was that near-destruction that had caused men and women to essentially abandon the wellsprings of civilization in return for a life of fleeting pleasures and social peace. That would suggest that Huxley didn’t really foresee the cultural turn that Douthat points to. Read in its own terms, the book does not suggest that we might just do all this to ourselves on purpose without the pressure to escape at all costs from an unbearable reality of self-destruction.

Brave New World is in a very fundamental sense an anti-war book, a warning about what the power to destroy might do to our willingness to live fully human lives. It’s a much more plausible story of how humanity could surrender to decadence. What we have in fact been witnessing and doing in the modern West is harder to explain.

It may be that the near-death experience of the Second World War, which began just a few years after Huxley’s book was published, had this effect on the societies that lived through it—and that this has been less obvious but not less true in America, where we didn’t directly experience the horrendous physical destruction of the war. There was a very widespread sense at mid-century (which Huxley partially foresaw in the ’30s) that the horrors of the atomic age would destroy our capacity for civilization. This sense is everywhere in the thought of the postwar German ex-patriots in Britain and America in particular. And maybe they were right—maybe this really is what happened. Maybe the decadence of postwar Western culture is Hitler’s ultimate revenge, a response to coming face to face with earth-shattering power. But if so, it has happened without the actual shattering.

And the explicit response of many Western societies in the immediate wake of that war was a kind of ecstatic relief that we had not gone over the precipice. Huxley himself felt this way. In a foreword written for the second edition of Brave New World, in 1946, he took note of the fact the terrible war had come but had not destroyed all civilization. Maybe the war had been a phase in the story whose future chapters he was seeking to predict in the early ‘30s, he wrote. “Its next phase may be atomic warfare, in which case we do not have to bother with prophecies about the future.” But the circumstances of the immediate postwar moment suggested there was also a possibility that we would stop short of utter self-annihilation:

It is conceivable that we may have enough sense, if not to stop fighting altogether, at least to behave as rationally as did our eighteenth-century ancestors. The unimaginable horrors of the Thirty Years War actually taught men a lesson, and for more than a hundred years the politicians and generals of Europe consciously resisted the temptation to use their military resources to the limits of destructiveness or (in the majority of military conflicts) to go on fighting until the enemy was totally annihilated. They were aggressors, of course, greedy for profit and glory; but they were also conservatives, determined at all costs to keep their world intact, as a going concern…Assuming, then, that we are capable of learning as much from Hiroshima as our forefathers learned from Magdeburg, we may look forward to a period, not indeed of peace, but of limited and only partially ruinous warfare.

And yet, the cultures of the Western democracies in the decades that followed have behaved in something like the ways that Huxley had originally imagined would follow the most horrendous sort of cataclysm. If his book was prophetic, it suggests that we have been acting out of a sense of trauma we have not been able or willing to quite articulate to ourselves—that we have described as a pursuit of liberty what has actually been a terrified escape from the burdens of responsibility for our civilization and from the implications of our power.

Maybe that’s true. If it is, it would vindicate Huxley’s powers of prophecy while also partially absolving liberalism of some of the serious charges now increasingly thrown at it by various traditionalists. But I wonder if the fundamentally chosen (and so at least in some respects optional) character of the path we have taken suggests that, while Huxley was brilliant at following the arcs of some powerful biotechnologies to their logical conclusions, his sociology was far from prophetic.

I think that’s actually a more hopeful reading of the evidence, because it would suggest that the widespread (if largely inarticulate) dissatisfaction with this path we have been on may keep us open to the possibility of another kind of path, which is still available, as ever, to those who are willing to lift their gaze toward it and so to see and to heed a very different kind of truth about what freedom is.

Elections

Stacey Abrams’s Non-Concession Concession 

We were told just days ago by all the great and good in the media when Martha McSally conceded that gracious losing is absolutely essential to our democracy. Well, here’s Stacey Abrams explicitly saying in her concession speech that she’s not conceding and, basically, alleging a dire plot to deny her the Georgia governorship, and assuredly almost no one who praised McSally will utter a peep of protest.

Elections

Trump and the Decline of the Suburban Republican

Jane Coaston suggests that “never Trump Republicans” swung the election to the Democrats, contrary to the claims of many people on the anti-Trump left and pro-Trump right that they are a tiny group without any sway over voters. Her article is a useful corrective to those claims. It is certainly true that there are a significant number of voters who oppose tax increases, dislike the idea of single-payer health care, have usually voted for Republicans, etc., but have serious objections to the president. It’s not just a subset of pundits who meet that description.

But there are differences, too, between the anti-Trump conservative pundits and the anti-Trump center-right (or formerly center-right?) voter. The never-Trump pundits are split, and I don’t think it is too much of an oversimplification to divide them into left and right segments.

The leftier never-Trumpers tend to favor legal abortion and gun control, to have opposed the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh (at least by the end of that debate), to have been moved by Trump’s presidency to reconsider many of their past conservative views, and to have proselytized in favor of Democratic candidates for Congress in the last election. Think of Max Boot as an example of the kind of commentator I’m talking about. The more conservative never-Trumpers, on the other hand, are pro-life, are at least skeptical of gun control, strongly favored Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and mostly argued against voting for Democrats this year. Think of, say, NR’s own David French (who is quoted in Coaston’s article).

The leftier kind of never Trumper is not an especially novel phenomenon: Well before Trump, Republicans were losing the support of upper-middle-class socially liberal voters. (Their movement out of the conservative coalition seems to have accelerated under Trump, though.) What was new in 2016 was the phenomenon of the ideologically very conservative Republican who had not previously had much reason to be uncomfortable in the party but refused to countenance the presidential nominee.

The Frenches of the world—if my colleague will permit me the license—want to make it clear that it is possible to be strongly conservative while disagreeing with Trump on some issues and judging much of his conduct harshly. To the extent that the “never Trump” label has become associated more with the Boots, however, it undermines that case: They make it look like opposition to Trump is part and parcel of a general desire for the Republican party to be more moderate. And the ranks of the most conservative never-Trumpers have been diminishing anyway, as the course of the administration has put to rest the doubts of 2016 about Trump’s reliability as an ally of conservatives on most issues.

The defecting Republicans in this election seem, as far as I can tell, to be closer in profile to Boot than to French. Which means, among other things, that while Trump’s personality and character are playing a role in reshaping the Republican party, its problems with the kind of voters who turned against it this fall are not limited to them.

Politics & Policy

ABC News Makes a Serious Mistake

Today, across Twitter, I began to see a number of people condemning the Trump administration (and Betsy DeVos, specifically) for imposing a new definition of sexual assault on campus so strict that it would force women to prove that they were so harassed that they’d been chased off campus and couldn’t return. Soon enough, I found the source of their concern. A terribly mistaken article from ABC News. In describing the Department of Education’s proposed Title IX rule changes to sexual-assault adjudication standards (I wrote about them today on the home page), ABC says this:

One of the biggest changes to the rule would be a new definition of sexual harassment. Under Obama, it was defined it as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” The new rule would define sexual harassment as unwanted sexual conduct that is “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a recipient’s education program or activity.”

That definition would be significantly more difficult to prove because the victim would have to prove the misconduct prevents them from returning to school.

No. The latter statement is completely wrong. The “new” rule is based on an almost 20-year-old Supreme Court case, Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, and is a restatement of standard sexual-harassment law. My friend Ken White explains:

The proposed rule defines sexual harassment as sexual assault, quid pro quo harassment, and as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity.” Note that the standard does not require you to prove that you lack “access” to the educational program. You merely have to prove that you lack equal access — that your access to the program or activity is fundamentally tainted by harassment.

A rule that required women to prove that misconduct “prevents them from returning to school” would be outrageous and would permit a host of dreadful actions that oppressed women but not enough to chase them from campus. Thankfully that’s not the law.

But that’s not the only problem with ABC’s story. It also describes the motivation for the changes like this:

A small group of mens’ rights groups have pushed for the changes, contending that schools have gone too far and provided little due process to the accused. That criticism has resonated with several White House supporters, including President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who has said he’s more worried about his sons than to his daughters in the #MeToo era.

That statement drastically understates the scale of the problem and the identity of those seeking change. Courts have faced waves of litigation, and judges from coast-to-coast and across the ideological spectrum have issued dozens of adverse rulings against universities. Coalitions of law professors from places like Harvard and Penn have expressed concerns about the lack of due process on campus. The Atlantic‘s Emily Yoffe has written an invaluable series of articles outlining the serious problems with campus sexual assault adjudications. This was no fringe movement. It was constitutionally necessary.

ABC should revise its inaccurate report. It’s causing unnecessary concern about an already-contentious topic.

Elections

Shifting Colors in Suburbia

Kristen Soltis Anderson points out that the election results were not just a matter of red areas getting redder while blue areas got bluer:

The suburbs of Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City and Salt Lake all sent Republicans packing and voted like they had politically more in common with the suburbs of Chicago, Denver, and Washington than with the sea of red that surrounds them in their states. . . .

Many light-red districts became light-blue districts.

At Bloomberg Opinion, I weigh in on the growing debate about whether Republicans should try to win back suburban moderates or concentrate on converting Obama-Trump voters into full-fledged Republicans.

Culture

The First Annual NRPlus ‘We Like Beer’ Meet-Up

We had it at our offices last night—a couple kegs, some chips and popcorn, and NRPlus members and our staff. It was a lot of fun. We plan to have events like this around the country with NRPlus members, so keep your eye on your inbox for an invite (and if you aren’t already part of NRPlus please check it out). We were especially proud of our special guest who greeted people at the door:

Law & the Courts

Trump Appointee Judge Rules for CNN. Good.

CNN’s Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta departs after a judge temporarily restored his White House press credentials following a hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., November 16, 2018. (Carlos Barria/Reuters )

Those who have argued that Federalist Society judges would be little more than rubber stamps for the Trump administration simply don’t understand the culture and judicial values of the Federalist Society. Case in point — earlier this morning Trump-appointed judge Timothy Kelly ordered the White House to immediately reinstate Jim Acosta’s press pass:

In a victory for the cable network and for press access generally, Judge Timothy J. Kelly granted CNN’s motion for a temporary restraining order that will prevent the administration from keeping Acosta off White House grounds.

The White House revoked the reporter’s press pass last week after a heated exchange between him and President Trump and a brief altercation with a press aide at a news conference. Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, is the first reporter with a so-called hard pass to be banned.

The judge issued his ruling at a hearing this morning, and the contours of his decision followed conventional First and Fifth Amendment doctrine:

In his decision, Kelly ruled that Acosta’s First Amendment rights overruled the White House’s right to have orderly news conferences. Kelly said he agreed with the government’s argument that there was no First Amendment right to come onto the White House grounds. But, he said, once the White House opened up the grounds to reporters, the First Amendment applied.

He also agreed with CNN’s argument that the White House did not provide due process. He said the White House’s decision-making was “so shrouded in mystery that the government could not tell me . . . who made the decision.” The White House’s later written arguments for banning Acosta were belated and weren’t sufficient to satisfy due process, Kelly said.

This is correct. Those who’ve argued on Twitter that “no one has a right to a press pass” aren’t quite grasping the case. The core question revolves around the circumstances under which a press pass once granted can be revoked. The analogy is imperfect, but consider campus due-process cases. No one has a freestanding right to admission to, say, the University of Michigan or the University of Tennessee, but once admitted the student has a liberty interest in their continued enrollment in the university, and the school can’t expel them without some form of due process.

To be clear, this is a preliminary ruling, based on an undeveloped factual record (in fact, the factual “mystery” was key to the judge’s ruling), so the case may well change as it continues in the district and (perhaps) moves through the appellate courts. But for now, based on the facts as they’re currently understood, the judge has made a correct and important ruling.

Acosta has behaved abysmally on a number of occasions, but conservatives should not let their hostility to Acosta or CNN override the larger constitutional principles. Fox News understands the stakes. It not only signed on to an amicus brief in support of CNN, it issued a strong statement, declaring “Secret Service passes for working White House journalists should never be weaponized.” That’s exactly right. Today’s ruling protects a reporter who’s undeniably hostile to a Republican president, but it also protects reporters who may ask hostile questions of future progressive presidents.

Well done, Judge Kelly. Today you helped demonstrate that the Federalist Society judicial revolution is about the Constitution, not partisan advantage.

Education

‘Cleansing’ the Washington and Lee Campus to Suit the Left

Over the last several years we have seen an eruption of the bossiness that lurks within left-wing academics and students who demand that college campuses be remade to suit their tastes. Statues must be torn down and buildings renamed if some leftist can find fault with them — otherwise, students might feel “unsafe” and “unwelcome.”

One school where such historical cleansing is in full swing is Washington and Lee. In today’s Martin Center article, Garland Tucker (an alum), writes about the ways the administration has caved in to the demands for change.

“For almost 150 years,” he writes, “the legacy of general Lee appeared well established; however, in the aftermath of the Charlottesville incident, the Board recently announced several troubling changes. Portraits of generals Washington and Lee in military uniform will be removed from Lee Chapel, fire doors will be installed in Lee Chapel to screen off the famous recumbent statue of Lee during university events, and the names of Robinson Hall and Lee-Jackson House will be changed. Presumably, such a screen will ensure that no student feels threatened or uncomfortable during university events.”

The school will also hire an historian whose job it will be to tell the story of Washington and Lee in ways that won’t offend anyone with politically correct sensibilities.

Will these actions calm the demands for PC change? Tucker thinks not, citing economist Walter Williams’s claim that that appeasing the left only makes it want more.

Culture

Last Eats

(Unsplash)

I sometimes joke that I have a “Death Row meal.” (This is only a partial joke.) In Milwaukee, they have Northpoint Custard, where I get a grilled-cheese sandwich, a vanilla shake, and a Diet Pepsi. (I know, that’s weird.) I’ve mentioned this in columns over the years, and I did again last month. I also said (to readers), “What’s your Death Row meal, or last supper?”

The responses were interesting — and wonderful — and I publish a good number of them in a column today.

Many of the responses were downright mouth-watering. Some were funny. Some were informative. (You can learn about the country, and the world, through food.) Many were moving — which I hadn’t really expected. Readers spoke of their family members, past and present, who cooked, or cook.

One reader actually had the experience of a Death Row meal, or last supper, in a way. This was before a difficult surgery. The meal was had at the Thurman Café, which advertises the “Tastiest Burgers in Columbus, Ohio.”

Again, that column is here. I’ll give you one response that I did not include in the column. It comes from one Kevin D. Williamson, originally of Lubbock, Texas. His Death Row meal? “Beans and cornbread, because I know they have Taco Villa in Heaven.”

National Review

Join Rick Brookhiser Discussing His Important New Book

Our esteemed colleague’s new acclaimed history of the first SCOTUS boss, John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court, will be the subject of a dinner and discussion — of course featuring Rick, who will take on the question “What would John Marshall think of the Kavanaugh Confirmation?” — on Thursday, November 29, at J.R.’s Stockyards Inn (8130 Watson Street) in McLean, Va. The event is jointly sponsored by National Review Institute and Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Cocktails start at 6:30 p.m., Dinner and the program commence at 7:00 p.m., and there is night-capping sale and signing of the book that was described by Jonathan Leaf in the last issue of National Review as a “superb account of the life of America’s greatest jurist.” The dinner and participation cost is $55, although admission is complimentary for member of NRI’s 1955 Society. For more information contact Alexandra Rosenberg at alexandra@nrinstitute.org (or call 212-849-2858). And if you are ready to RSVP now, you can do that here.

National Review

You Could Be a Most Happy Fella (if You Apply by December 15th)

That’s what you will be if you become part of this remarkably enjoyable National Review Institute program. NRI is seeking applicants for its Spring 2019 Regional Fellowship Programs in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

Who/what/when/where/why, you ask? Fair enough: The ideal applicant will be a mid-career professional (roughly ages 30–50), with an interest, but not professional experience, in policy or journalism. Past Fellows have represented diverse industries and professions ranging from oil and gas, finance, real estate, medicine, sporting industries, law enforcement, education, nonprofits, and the arts. The program takes place over eight moderated dinner discussions (always at a classy joint). The 2019 class will run from January through May. Each session is moderated, and there is a curriculum. Moderators include popular writers at National Review and leading academics at local universities. The rewards of participating are plentiful and last a lifetime. The deadline to apply is December 15. To do that, and to find more information about the Regional Fellows Program here. And if you don’t live in one of the three program cities, but know folks who do (maybe there is a kid in Philly, a grandkid in Brooklyn, a niece or nephew in Georgetown) and who might be NRI fellow material, please share this with them.

Become a Fellow. Think about it while you listen to the original cast album of Frank Loesser’s 1955 classic musical, The Most Happy Fella.

Politics & Policy

The Conventional, Persistent Misunderstanding of the Gender Gap

After pretty much any election Republicans have lost over the last generation — and sometimes even after elections they have won — we hear that the party has to address its huge problem with women. Senator Lindsey Graham at least narrowed down the demographic challenge, albeit with some rhetorical infelicity: “We’ve got to address the suburban-woman problem, because it’s real.”

The exit polls, which show how differently men and women voted, fuel these arguments after every election. What the House exit polls from the last two elections tell us is that Republican candidates for the House won the votes of 55 percent of men and 44 percent of women in 2016, and 51 percent of men and 40 percent of women in 2018. It seems to me that the natural interpretation of those numbers is: Republicans usually do somewhat worse among women than among men, and in this election their support fell about the same amount in both groups.

The exits don’t give us a breakdown for suburban women, but they do let us look at college-educated white women and men. The women voted 49 percent for Republicans in 2016 and 39 percent in 2018. The men voted 60 percent for Republicans in 2016 and 51 percent in 2018. Republicans had a significant drop-off in support that was concentrated among college graduates — but was not especially concentrated among women.

Religion

The Church of the Secret Ballot

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo during a press conference at the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore, Md., November 12, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters )

This week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) gathered in Baltimore for its annual fall meeting, intending to vote on policies related to the sexual-abuse crisis that boiled over in the U.S. this summer.

As one might have expected after observing the way many in the hierarchy handled the last few months of controversy, that didn’t happen.

When the meeting began, USCCB president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo announced that the Vatican had insisted that the bishops not vote on any proposals related to preventing or adjudicating sexual-misconduct claims. The instruction from on high was that these matters must wait until after they could be addressed at a February meeting of Church leadership at the Holy See.

This is the latest evidence that many of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church — Pope Francis included — intend to delay providing transparency and substantive reform as long as possible, or at least to keep faithful Catholics in the dark until leaders can devise their own private strategy.

As a result of this directive, this week’s meeting resulted in little practical progress. Prior to the letter from the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops — which has yet to be made public, and likely won’t be — the USCCB planned to consider creating both a code of conduct for bishops and a laity-led panel to investigate claims of misconduct or negligence on the part of Church leaders.

According to reporting from Catholic News Agency (CNA), the bishops in attendance seemed surprised by DiNardo’s announcement that no votes would take place on these proposals. One notable exception was Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, “who rose immediately to say that ‘it is clear the Holy See is taking the abuse crisis seriously.’”

Earlier in this week’s meetings, Cupich addressed concerns about sexual misconduct in the clergy unrelated to abuse of minors, saying, “In some of the cases with adults involving clerics, it could be consensual sex. . . . There’s a whole different set of circumstances.”

The archbishop of Chicago also made news this summer when he was asked about Pope Francis’s handling of the allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Cupich said that “the pope has a bigger agenda” and has “got to get on with other things, of talking about the environment and protecting migrants and carrying on the work of the Church” rather than clarifying the situation with McCarrick.

CNA also reported that during the meetings, Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, asked about the Vatican’s investigation of the McCarrick allegations, including whether bishops might “bring any respectful pressure to bear” on the Holy See. According to CNA, “DiNardo replied that the four dioceses in which McCarrick had served had opened investigations but said he did not know of the status of a Vatican investigation.”

Given the way this meeting unfolded, it seems unlikely that Catholics will find out the status of that investigation any time soon, which appears to be what the Vatican and much of the hierarchy wants.

In perhaps the crowning insult of this week’s events, the U.S. bishops considered a resolution that read: “Be it resolved that the bishops of the USCCB encourage the Holy Father to release all the documentation that can be released consistent with canon and civil law regarding the misconduct of Archbishop McCarrick.”

Even this half-hearted measure failed by a 137–83 vote, with three bishops abstaining. The vote was conducted using a private electronic ballot — perhaps the perfect image for the Catholic hierarchy today. What better system than a secret vote for protecting the cone of silence that keeps clergy and laity on the outside looking in, unable even to determine whether their own bishop is asking for transparency?

“If there’s one thing that nags at everyone, it’s the Archbishop McCarrick thing,” DiNardo said this week, speaking of the letters the USCCB has received from Catholics in recent months. “It seems to be ubiquitous. This is the one that I think has to be addressed. It’s just bad for our people.”

DiNardo is right. Catholic laity and clergy cried out for answers in the weeks following the McCarrick scandal, the subsequent allegation that Pope Francis and other Church leaders had ignored sanctions placed on the former cardinal, and the devastating Pennsylvania grand-jury report detailing horrific sexual abuse of minors.

But those cries for the truth went unanswered, and with this failed vote and derailed meeting, the status quo prevails once again. Catholics in the U.S. and around the world deserve better.

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