Pro-Francis bishops were largely defeated by anti-Francis bishops in elections for the conference’s top positions at the recent U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops fall meeting in Baltimore (Nov. 14–17), sending a clear message to Rome and the rest of the English-speaking world.

The Vatican’s career diplomat who has led the Archdiocese for the Military Services since 2007 and is now the new USCCB president, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, is being hailed by the conservative wing of the church. Broglio was a significant aide to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the secretary of state for the Vatican, from 1990 to 2001. Cardinal Marcial Maciel was a notorious sexual abuser who was the target of investigations while Broglio was a resident of Rome.

Broglio has backed religious opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine and attributes the abuse crisis to homosexuality. The Synod on Synodality prides itself on its transparency, but the Archdiocese for the Military Services is one of the few dioceses in the United States that does not publish a synod synthesis.

All of the elected officers are, however, on the right side of the aisle in a nod to synodality, just as the bishops were seated at round tables in the Baltimore Marriott ballroom. More moderate candidates kept losing to the culture warriors one after another.

The National Eucharistic Congress is scheduled to take place in Indianapolis in July 2024, and during the meeting, the bishops heard a presentation about the multimillion-dollar plans for the event. They discussed liturgy and agreed upon canonization causes. They made the choice not to update their dated voters’ manual.

The time the bishops spent on these issues far outweighed the time they spent ministering to the sick, the homeless, the sick in prison, the dead, and the hungry, which is what the church is called to do.

Yes, the bishops talked about writing a book to help lay people who care for the sick. Yes, at the conclusion of one day’s sessions, a victim of abuse and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark (who was unsuccessful in his bid to serve as conference secretary) made forceful speeches. The synod, whose next stage will be conducted via Zoom among representatives exclusively chosen by the bishops, was indeed discussed. The chair of the migration committee reported that, working with other agencies, the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services helped to resettle some 1,300 Afghans.

However, the Dominican Sister Donna Markham, retiring president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, which is a massive umbrella organization covering 167 agencies and roughly 3,400 locations serving more than 15 million people annually, made the most emphatic statement about commitment to Christian charity. The ways in which Markham’s organization carried out what she called “the Catholic Church’s response in this country to people who reside along the margins of our society” were described in detail.

Only 1% of Catholic Charities’ budget, according to Markham, comes from the USCCB’s annual collection, and another 5% is made up of member agency dues.

The fact that a woman gave the strongest example of what the church is and needs to do is instructive of the quagmire the bishops find themselves in.

The “Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” was approved by the group twenty years ago. At the time, the rules were not followed by at least one bishop, Fabian Bruskowitz of Lincoln, Nebraska. He was not held accountable by the USCCB. Since then, shocking statistics showing a pattern of sex abuse by its clerics have been produced by state after state.

Safeguarding is crucial, but it’s only one element of the puzzle. Seminaries will continue to produce clergy — not all of them, but a significant portion of them — who preach politics rather than the Gospel and who are lawmakers rather than mercy-agents until they prioritize human formation.

That is why Catholics and others are left wondering what the USCCB is all about. That is why so many Catholics have simply left.