Catholic Bay Staters highly respect Cardinal Sean O’Malley. He’s viewed by many as a no-holds-barred leader when it comes to addressing clergy sex abuse. In a 2014 interview with the Jesuit magazine America, he spoke out about the problem.
“In many people’s minds it is an American problem, an Irish problem, or a German problem,” O’Malley said. “The church has to face it is everywhere in the world. There is so much denial. The church has to respond to make the church safe for children.”
But now, some Bay Staters are calling for both Cardinal O’Malley and Pope Francis to step down, as reports circulate that O’Malley, too, knew of alleged abuses at the hands of former DC archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
Sadly, in 2018 the Catholic Church worldwide is still bedeviled with this problem. And it begs the question, is the Catholic Church salvageable?
While on his trip to Ireland to win back the confidence of Catholics reeling from their church’s mishandling of predatory priests, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, an ultra-traditionalist and unapologetic homophobe, accused Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, and other top Catholic Church officials of knowing about McCarrick’s sex abuses decades before they became public.
McCarrick, now 88, was a rising star in the Catholic Church in the 1980s while bishop in New Jersey. McCarrick was also known to “often place his hand on seminarians while talking with them, or on their thighs while seated near them.” While a priest in New York, he sexually abused an altar boy when measuring the teen for a cassock. McCarrick is reported to have “unzipped [the boy’s] pants and put his hands in the boy’s pants.” On June 20, McCarrick was removed from public ministry by the Holy See, and on June 27 Pope Francis accepted his resignation from the College of Cardinals.
In a 7,000-word letter published in Italian by the National Catholic Register and in English by LifeSiteNews, both critical of Francis, Viganò called on Francis to resign.
“In this extremely dramatic moment for the universal Church,” Viganò wrote, “he must acknowledge his mistakes and, in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set an example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign with all of them.”
Viganò might be correct in pointing out the Catholic Church’s moral and ecclesiastical fecklessness to stem the problem with its predatory priests, but he also has a chip on his shoulder.
Viganò was the Holy See’s apostolic nuncio, or ambassador, in Washington from 2011 until 2016, and he’s part of the ultra-conservative wing of the Vatican that is hell-bent against change and inclusion. In his scathing letter of unsubstantiated claims and falsehoods, the archbishop not only accuses Francis of covering up or being complicit about sexual abuse, but he also blames Francis for his quasi-liberal leanings, condemning him as “the first pope to approve of adultery, flirt with proposals to bless gay marriages and cohabitation, tell atheists not to convert, tell Catholics to not breed ‘like rabbits,’ praise the Koran, support a secularized Europe, and celebrate Martin Luther.”
Viganò, however, is most incensed by the pontiff “giving comfort to a ‘homosexual current’ in the Vatican.” While the warring conservative and liberal factions wrestle with the direction the Catholic Church needs to move in this modern era, the church is nonetheless still stymied and stained by continued unaddressed claims of sex abuse by unprosecuted sex offenders.
Just this month, the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania exploded with news exposing its sex abuse scandal citing a grand jury report, with accusations that 300 priests abused at least 1,000 children over a 70-year period. The report shockingly detailed cases of kids manipulated with alcohol who were raped, harassed, fondled, and threatened, while laments for help from their families were either “brushed aside” or hushed with payoffs. These revelations came following McCarrick’s resignation.
O’Malley, meanwhile, met last week with approximately 300 Boston-area priests at Saint Julia Church in Weston to address recent alleged sexual misconduct at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. To the shock and horror of many Catholic Bay Staters, O’Malley never addressed a letter sent to him about McCarrick—he claims his secretary never gave it to him.
In his mea culpa clean-up statement, O’Malley publicly released the following remarks: “I understand that not everyone will accept this answer given the way the Church has eroded the trust of our people. My hope is that we can repair the trust and faith of all Catholics.”
However, the question not asked by the church’s governing body remains: Why does sexual abuse persist as it does among its clerics?
There are two salient causes: a “no-snitch policy” and an unwavering support of church bishops.
For example, the church has such a policy of silence when it comes to child sexual abuse, as canon law allows for the pontifical secret on all “allegations” as well as proof of predatory priests. As a result, these cover-ups have been occurring under six popes since 1922.
In February 2016, good news came that gave some hope that canon law was about to change.
O’Malley, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, stated that bishops have an ethical and moral obligation to report allegations of clergy sexual misconduct and abuse to civil authorities. But in December of that year, the commission published its guidelines for the church’s national conference of bishops. Sadly, O’Malley’s statement was excluded.
In his role, Pope Francis promised to implement a “zero tolerance” policy moving forward to stem the problem—but he appears to be part of the problem, too, because he supports rogue bishops. In one case, Francis appointed a bishop in Chile who turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the country’s most notorious predatory priest. In 2011, the Vatican found the priest guilty and sentenced him to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” and not jail. Years later, Francis supported the bishop in Chile, saying there was “no proof” of claims that abuse by Father Fernando Karadima was covered up by Bishop Juan Barros.
Another example of such indifference came when Pope Francis attended former Boston Archbishop Bernard Law’s funeral at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and in the process reinjured and retraumatized the church’s sex abuse survivors. Law never faced criminal charges for his role in knowing and allowing abusive priests to remain in parishes.
During a recent closing ceremony in Dublin, Francis asked forgiveness for sexual abuses committed by clerics of his church. But with no changes in canon law, seminarian training, or his culpability, his church has done nothing to earn the forgiveness he has asked for.
Rev. Irene Monroe can be heard on the podcast and standing Boston Public Radio segment ALL REV’D UP on WGBH (89.7 FM). Monroe’s syndicated religion columns appear and the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail. She is a s a Visiting Researcher in the Religion and Conflict Transformation Program at Boston University School of Theology.