Fearing The Faithful: Catholic Sex Abuse Summit Is Rorschach Test For Pope
On April 27, 2014, it seemed like Pope Francis’ pronouncement to canonize Blessed Pope John Paul II, and Pope John XXIII, commemorated a turning point for the Roman Catholic Church. “These were two men of courage,” Francis declared, “and they bore witness before the church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.” However, a wise fool cannot run from his past when shame trips his own two feet. The earth-shaking resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington D.C., and member of the hierarchy, became a sign of impending divine justice for long-suffering victims at the supplicating hands of the Catholic Church. Before the world could exhale, less than three weeks later, old wounds tore open for Catholics absorbing the weight of the devastating Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report verifying that 300 priests sexually abused over one thousand children.
History repeated itself.
For the faithful, fresh hot tears unleashed a repressed rage over a never-ending discomfiture. The Roman Catholic Church is still unclean. After seventeen years, the church’s detritus of deceit is an unshakable stigma, dogging the Vatican, and the faithful. Billions of Catholics, now on the warpath, demand unrelenting action from the church as the pope’s first global sexual abuse summit draws near, this February. Restoring confidence with the faithful is now at critical mass for the Catholic Church, and Francis’ Rorschach test as pope.
“They contained credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests. Over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the Church’s own records. We believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands,” states the report. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro displayed no mercy while baring the church’s perfidy to the world. “They protected their institution at all costs. As the grand jury found, the church showed a complete disdain for victims.” Shapiro stressed that the conspiracy to protect predator priests “stretched in some cases all the way up to the Vatican.” To comprehend the depth and overwhelming severity of the Vatican’s treachery, flash back to 2002 with a fresh new set of eyes.
Like the grand jury’s report, the Boston Globe Spotlight team uncovered over 300 cases of clerical sexual abuse, and also that for over thirty years, the Archdiocese of Boston conspired to shuffle pedophile priests like a magician’s card trick, imperiling children throughout the United States. At the present time, forty-five states, along with Pennsylvania, plan to pursue criminal investigations against the archdiocese. Without question, the church’s reputation for integrity among the faithful is dire. Sunday mass attendance shows bald spots in the pews, indicating a threadbare flock willing to punish the parishes by famishing the church’s collection plates. According to the most recent Gallup poll, only 31% of Catholics view the church favorably, an all-time low compared to 49% in 2004 after the first crisis hit the church.
For bruised cradle Catholics like Scott Day of Las Vegas, Nevada, patience over the church’s negligence has worn down to a nub. “[They should] commit to excommunicating and defrocking at a minimum those who protected the guilty.” Even that is not enough for the conservative husband, and father of three. “[Out] the guilty instead of hiding them away at another parish so they can assault [children] again.”
While Day holds onto his faith by a fingernail, baby boomer Laurie Lackey, from Appleton, Wisconsin, recalls growing up Catholic in the sixties. The church’s strict ideology became a traumatizing hell for the Special-Ed teacher. “As an adult, I [now] see the harshness of the messages instilled by the priests, and nuns at my [Catholic] elementary school. Obey without question or explanation was expected.” Lackey calls the sexual abuse scandal in the church “abominable,” affirming her decision to reject Catholic philosophy permanently. “Anyone in any [religion] who abuses someone sexually should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” The Vatican’s inability to hold themselves accountable still remains a most disturbing question. The painful answer lies somewhere in between the laxity of Blessed Pope John Paul II, and the crusade over the third Vatican ecumenical council.
“I think there was an information gap, particularly between the United States and the Holy See in the first months of 2002,” said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Paul II’s former press adviser in 2014. In the face of his massive, global popularity, God’s athlete, far removed from grasping the unending abuse crisis in America, debased himself, and the Church’s tenuous image. Looking back, Navarro-Valls’ unforced elucidations to shield the not-so-saintly-Blessed John Paul II from the scandal turned out to be low-hanging fruit. “So, the pope was not living this crisis in real time as we were in the United States, but once he became fully informed in April 2002, he acted decisively to deal with these problems.” Navarro-Walls’ justification for the unconscionable negligence proves to be problematic now that the grand jury’s destructive report contradicts the Vatican’s acts of contrition.
“We know that the bulk of the discussion in this report concerns events that occurred before the early 2000s. That is simply because the bulk of the material we received from the dioceses concerned those events. The information in these documents was previously kept hidden from those whom it most affected. It is exposed now only because of the existence of this grand jury.”
At the Dallas Charter for The Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, U.S. bishops swore to a zero tolerance policy to report abusive priests, end the cover-up of clerical abuse, and raise public awareness throughout the church. Yet some of the bishops in the hierarchy shillyshallied in pledging themselves to the same zero tolerance policy. “Our impression is that quite a few bishops did move very quickly after Dallas to remove abusive priests who were in the ministry, others have said they want to see the Vatican’s reaction,” said Msgr. Francis Maniscalco at the time. “But that shouldn’t leave the impression that priests are being left in situations where they can harm children.” Au contraire. The grand jury’s devastating account proves the admissions from Msgr. Maniscalco were less than truthful. “Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.”
The overwhelming evidence against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ incessant, and intentional, deception is a compelling indictment against the church. Clearly, if Pope Francis is sincere in rebuilding trust among the lay faithful, he must gut the hierarchy after the summit. Maniscalco’s comments from 2002 tarnish Blessed John Paul II’s legacy as pope, and cast a black cloud over Francis’ papacy. What did the pope know and when did he know it? “One of the important decisions was to give the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responsibility for handling the cases,” said Navarro-Valls. However, the caveat for the church to operate only on good faith was doomed to fail because one of the charter’s draftees was none other than the disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
Like a Machiavellian, mustache-twirling villain, McCarrick shrewdly added his assistance to inscribing the rules of the charter, leaving himself, and the church hierarchy, immune from any consequence. Only the pope holds authority to discipline a member of the hierarchy. The revelations of McCarrick as one of the architects of the charter to protect young children, is the equivalent of leaving a fox to guard the henhouse. “The New York Times revealed that some in the church hierarchy had known for decades about accusations that he had preyed on men who wanted to become priests, sexually harassing and touching them.”
Benedict XVI during his ill-timed reign never punished anyone in the hierarchy. “These cases and others require more than apologies,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said after McCarrick’s resignation. “They raise up the fact that when charges are brought regarding a bishop or a cardinal, a major gap still exists in the church’s policies on sexual conduct and sexual abuse.”
In 2010, abused Irish Catholics fervently scolded Benedict’s miscarriages of justice, prompting him to state in a in a seven-page letter the church’s disgrace and repetitive inaction. “I know nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed, and your dignity violated,” Benedict acknowledged. Although Benedict openly condemned culpable bishops by stating “grave errors of judgment were made, and failures of leadership occurred,” the church’s infinite duplicity to shield the Lord’s flock is a lasting stain on their legacy.
By 2012, under the direction of Benedict, church communities schooled over 2.1 million Catholics on sexual abuse prevention by submitting staff and volunteers to FBI criminal background checks and educating roughly 5.2 million children. Because of guardrails in place, allegations of clerical abuse had dropped, spearheading a new philosophy that the Catholic Church took responsibility for its sins. The laity carried the brunt of the church’s shame by trusting its vow to end the secrecy and safeguard children. It had appeared at face value that the Vatican’s quest to re-establish trust proved successful, until now. The question asked, time and again, is why is the church protecting pedophiles within the church? The intolerable answer is like venturing into a labyrinth, blindfolded in pitch darkness.
The Vatican is a government, with the Roman Curia as the central agency of directorial establishments for the Holy See. They manage affairs and daily operations while acting in the pope’s name for the Catholic Church. “The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism…”~ Pope Benedict XVI.
The Doctrine of Faith stands as eternal power to modify the church’s policy on morality. In 1959, Blessed Pope John XXIII stunned the hierarchy and astonished Catholics by establishing Vatican II, the first ecumenical council virtually in a hundred years. The council’s objective: to modernize the church’s future primarily by ending Catholic anti-Semitism post World War II. The pope’s reasoning was to “throw open the windows and let the fresh air of the Spirit blow through.”
In hopes of restoring faith with the laity, critics outside and inside the church are press-ganging Francis to ratify Vatican III, so that the church, at last, ends clergy abuse secrecy, and ushers in a new era of change. Francis’ credence for the third Vatican counsel means, “The time has come to abandon all intolerance. We must recognize that religious truth evolves and changes.” Francis asserts, “Truth is not absolute or set in stone.”
However, like the polarizing culture wars in the west, inside the Holy See, there’s an ongoing civil war within the Roman Curia. Two ideological tribes clash over the soul of the Catholic Church. Progressive cardinals side with Pope Francis while conservative hard-liners side with American Cardinal Raymond Burke, and Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former papal nuncio to Washington D.C. In the aftermath of Pennsylvania’s grand jury’s report, Vigano, a prickly detractor of Francis’, transcribed an eleven-page account, alleging that the pope himself suppressed sexual abuse cases connected to former Archbishop Donald Wuerl, and disgraced former Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Although unproven, Vigano’s declaration set off a conflagration through Rome by challenging the pope to resign. He claims that members of the Roman Curia are, “in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality,” and “belong to the same current, albeit with a different ideology.” Supporters of Francis believe that since Vigano resigned in April 2016, his unfounded accusations embody a longstanding resentment for Francis and the progressive wing of the church. So, what could bring on such suspicious innuendo, and baying acrimony inside the haunted halls of the Vatican? Enter Pope Francis’ most astute critic, American Cardinal Burke, and rabble-rouser, former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
“We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which, if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with out beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s startling.” Bannon, on Skype, continued: “A barbarity that would completely eradicate everything we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”
As U.S. attorneys-general move to open criminal investigations similar to Pennsylvania’s grand jury, the embattled pope dropped a tack hammer on the hierarchy at his Christmas address. “To those who abuse minors, I would say this: Convert and hand yourself over to human justice and prepare for divine justice,” he warned. “The church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case…that must never happen again.” The pope did not stop there. In January, Francis sent a seven-page letter to the Conference of U.S. Bishops’s summit in Chicago. With unruffled leadership, Francis’ epistle acts act more like a proclamation, priming the bishops to settle their cultural differences for the sake of catholicity, in order to move towards a new direction for the church. There are two valuable passages where Francis hints at just that. “A personal and collective awareness of our limitations reminds us, as Saint John XXIII said, it must not be imagined that authority knows no bounds. It cannot be aloof in its discernment and in its efforts to pursue the common good,” and, “This approach demands of us the decision to abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or scold in our relationships, and instead to make room for the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer.”
Whether Francis’ aptitude for change transpires remains to be seen. However, there’s a reason to believe; he plans to use the summit as a starting point for his vision for the Catholic Church’s future. “Pope Francis is calling for a change of culture, that is, a reform in how we approach ministry, for, in addition to being a crime, sexual abuse of minors by clerics is about the corruption of our ministry,” reveals Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago in an exclusive interview with Cruxnow. “This is why this meeting has to be understood as part of a long-term commitment to reform, realizing that one meeting will not solve every issue.”
For the aggrieved faithful, like Scott Day, the church must take active measures against predators. “[They should] turn over all evidence of wrongdoing to law enforcement, as a minimum, but I would be okay with chemical and physical castrations as well.”
Pope Francis’ sexual abuse summit in Rome takes place February 21-24, 2019.