The Sex-Abuse Scandal Is Growing Faster Than the Church Can Contain It

The Catholic world is struggling to absorb a week of new revelations and resignations.

A protester holds a picture of Pope Francis during a demonstration against clerical sex abuse, in Dublin, Ireland August 25, 2018.

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This has been a dramatic week for Catholics around the world. As Pope Francis faces mounting pressure to address the spiraling clergy sex-abuse crisis, almost every day has brought some new revelation or declaration.

Since Tuesday alone, a group of American Catholic leaders went to Rome to ask Francis some tough questions, while a women’s open letter demanding answers from him crossed the 45,000-signature mark. The pontiff summoned bishops from around the world to a future meeting, while making one bishop the subject of a new investigation. One cardinal who had come under fire for allegedly enabling accused priests to keep working for the Church announced his plans to resign, while another, who has been pressing for meaningful action against abusers, came under scrutiny himself. Amidst all this, a bombshell report about sex abuse in Germany was leaked to the press.

“Many strands are coming together,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, a historian of Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. “It does seem like we are reaching a watershed moment.” By Thursday, there had been so many new developments that she said she was having a hard time keeping up—and that the leaders at the Vatican probably were, too. “I think they’re scrambling. The news is coming on so many fronts. I think they don’t know quite what to do.” Here is some of what they nevertheless did this week.

An American audience with the pope

Church leaders from the U.S. met with the pope in Rome on Thursday. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had called for a meeting to discuss allegations against Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal who served as archbishop of Washington from 2001 to 2006. This summer, McCarrick resigned as cardinal after he was accused of sexual abuse. An explosive letter by the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, claimed last month that Francis had known for years about McCarrick’s alleged abuse yet allowed him to keep rising through the ranks of the Church. Francis has so far declined to comment publicly on Viganò’s accusations, and DiNardo and others were seeking an investigation into the matter.

“We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States—how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart,” DiNardo said in a statement after leaving the meeting. “It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.” But if any concrete decisions came out of the papal meeting, DiNardo did not reveal them.

“I worry that the cardinals are coming home empty-handed. They were listened to, but it’s not clear they’re going to have support from the Vatican in terms of handling the investigation into the McCarrick situation,” Mary Rice Hasson, the director of the Catholic Women’s Forum, a network that aims to amplify the voices of Catholic women, told me Thursday. “The concern doesn’t go away because our cardinals had a nice listening session with Pope Francis. People want action.”

Complicating matters further, on the eve of his meeting with the pope, DiNardo himself was accused of covering up abuse in his Galveston-Houston archdiocese, casting doubt on whether he could effectively lead the U.S. Church’s effort at reform, the Washington Post reported.  

Even as DiNardo and other U.S. leaders gathered in Rome on Thursday, the pope accepted the immediate resignation of a West Virginia bishop, Michael J. Bransfield, over allegations that he had sexually harassed adults. Francis also authorized another bishop to investigate the allegations against Bransfield.

A plan for an unprecedented meeting of world bishops

Pope Francis on Wednesday summoned bishops from around the world to a first-of-its-kind meeting in Rome in February. The focus will be on protecting minors, and bishops will reportedly receive training in identifying abuse, intervening, and listening to victims.

The choice to summon the presidents of bishops’ conferences worldwide signals that the Vatican finally recognizes clergy sex abuse is a global problem, according to Cummings, the historian. “That’s a departure, an admission, that this is much bigger than any one culture or nation,” she said. In the past, she explained, Church leaders had suggested that the problem was limited to the U.S., but as scandals began to surface elsewhere—from Ireland to Australia to Chile to Germany—that story became impossible to believe.

A worldwide summons to bishops, Cummings continued, is “a big move, but I’m not sure how bold it is. This crisis has been created by the bishops. The people who create crises are not the ones who are going to lead you out of them.”

Stephen Schneck, a former Catholic University professor, likewise told me, “I’ve come to the conclusion that the bishops can’t be trusted to police themselves. I think the ultimate solution, especially here in the U.S., is going to require an active, permanent role for the laity, because of the problem of oversight.”

A new bombshell report

A study has alleged that more than 3,600 children were sexually abused at the hands of some 1,670 clergy members over the past seven decades in Germany. Commissioned by Church officials and conducted by university researchers, the report was supposed to be released on September 25, but it was leaked to German outlets Spiegel Online and Die Zeit and reported this Wednesday instead. The findings implicate no less than 4.4 percent of the country’s clergy in abuse. A German bishop called the revelation “depressing and shameful.”

To the American Catholics I spoke to, it was something else, too: unsurprising. “A year ago, I would have been surprised,” Schneck said. “But now I think we have to recognize that this is a systemic problem within the clergy ranks around the world.” Cummings put it more bluntly: “I thought, ‘Of course. Here we go.’”

This study comes on the heels of another bombshell report. Just last month, a 900-page Pennsylvania grand-jury report detailed accusations against about 300 priests and alleged that their actions—which the report said involved more than 1,000 children—were covered up by diocese officials.

A cardinal on the verge of resignation

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, said Tuesday that he plans to travel to Rome soon, where he will ask the pope to accept his resignation. Wuerl has been heavily criticized after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report alleged that, as archbishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, he had permitted priests accused of abusing minors to be reassigned or reinstated. He said Thursday that new leadership is needed to help the Washington archdiocese get past the “current confusion, disappointment, and disunity.”

Wuerl initially presented his resignation to Francis three years ago upon reaching the Church-mandated retirement age for bishops, 75, but the pontiff did not accept at the time. (This is fairly common; if the pope does not accept the pro forma resignation, the bishop continues to serve.) It’s unclear whether Francis will accept the resignation when Wuerl tenders it again.

“The fact that an archbishop has been chased into early retirement is very significant,” noted Schneck, who said he knows Wuerl personally. “He probably would’ve retired soon anyway, but nevertheless this was precipitated by the Pennsylvania grand-jury report. He has come to realize that he’s no longer effective as archbishop of Washington.”

A very vulnerable pope

In an ambiguous homily on Tuesday, Francis seemed to suggest that Satan was playing a role in the uncovering of the Church’s sex-abuse scandal. “In these times, it seems like the ‘Great Accuser’ [a biblical name for the devil] has been unchained and has it in for bishops. … He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people,” he said.

Some Catholics I spoke to speculated Francis may have been alluding to Viganò’s letter, which demanded the pope’s resignation. Either way, it struck some as a discordant remark at a moment when many are seeking contrition and humility from the Vatican.

“I thought it was the wrong note,” Schneck said. “This isn’t the time for that kind of language. … We need to recognize that the scandal itself was caused by the actions of the clergy, and the uncovering of this scandal is occurring as a result of the work of law enforcement around the world.”

“I thought it was the wrong note,” Schneck said. “This isn’t the time for that kind of language. … We need to recognize that the scandal itself was caused by the actions of the clergy, and the uncovering of this scandal is occurring as a result of the work of law enforcement around the world.”

Complete Article HERE!

U.S. Leaders Of ‘Lacerated’ Catholic Church Meet Pope To Discuss Sex Abuse Crisis


Archbishop Jose Gomez (left) and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo arrive at the Perugino Gate to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday to discuss the sex abuse crisis within the church.

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As Pope Francis sat down at the Vatican Thursday with a delegation of U.S. bishops and cardinals to discuss how to gain ground in the sexual abuse crisis engulfing the Catholic Church, fresh scandals emerged on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Germany, a first-of-its kind study leaked to German news outlets found that over the past seven decades, at least 3,677 children have been sexually abused by clergy members there.

Researchers who spent four years studying records and conducting new interviews found that 1,670 priests and other religious leaders were suspected of engaging in abuse — 4.4 percent of the total number of clergy in the country.

And yet researchers repeatedly emphasized throughout the 350-page report that the actual numbers are likely “significantly higher,” German newspaper Die Zeit reports.

Some two dozen dioceses participated in the study, commissioned by the Catholic Church bishops’ conference in Germany. But critics say because the church is both subject and sponsor of the report, the findings are inherently flawed.

“The report does not give the full picture, and is not fully independent,” German criminologist Christian Pfeiffer told The New York Times.

Pfeiffer told the Times that researchers from three universities were unable to look directly at church files, instead relying on church workers to fill out questionnaires. And the report says that in several instances, church files documenting abuse have been altered or destroyed.

The official findings are not set for release until Sept. 25.

Last month, an explosive grand jury report covering a similar time period in Pennsylvania revealed that 300 “predator priests” had abused more than 1,000 victims with the help of a systematic cover-up by church leaders.

But the grand jury added a caveat: “We believe that the real number … is in the thousands.”

Seeking a way forward, American bishops and cardinals laid the crisis bare before the pope at the Vatican on Thursday.

“We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States — how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse,” the head of the delegation, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, said in a statement.

DiNardo, who had requested the meeting in response to the sexual abuse scandal around Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, said it “was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange” and that the pope “listened very deeply from the heart.”

While DiNardo offered no specifics about how they plan to address the abuse, he said they prayed with the pope “for God’s mercy and strength as we work to heal the wounds. We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps.”

In February, Catholic bishops from across the world will convene in Rome at the pope’s invitation to discuss the “prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.”

Also Thursday, Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., and ordered an investigation into accusations that Bransfield sexually harassed adults.

The archbishop of Baltimore, William E. Lori, has been appointed to fill in on an interim basis in West Virginia — serving in both roles — until a permanent bishop is chosen.

“My primary concern is for the care and support of the priests and people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston at this difficult time,” Lori said in a statement. “I further pledge to conduct a thorough investigation in search of the truth into the troubling allegations against Bishop Bransfield.”

Those allegations against Bransfield are not included the statement.

But a man testifying four years ago in the Philadelphia trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the first senior U.S. Catholic Church official convicted of concealing sex abuse, accused Bransfield of misconduct.

The man said that another priest had raped him in Bransfield’s home. He also testified that his abuser told him Bransfield was sexually abusing one or more boys.

Bransfield issued a statement at the time denying the allegations. And a West Virginia diocese issued a statement in his defense, saying Bransfield’s alleged victim denied the abuse, the Associated Press reports.

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church Is Sick With Sex

Outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love.

Pope Alexander VI

By Timothy Egan

One pope was a father of 10 through multiple mistresses, a man who purchased the papacy with mule-loads of silver. It is said that Alexander VI, the most debauched of the Borgia pontiffs, elected in 1492, even had an affair with one of his daughters.

Another pope contracted syphilis during his reign — a “disease very fond of priests, especially rich priests,” as the saying went in Renaissance times. That was Julius II, known as “Il terrible.”

A third pope, Pius IX, added Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” and John Stuart Mill’s book on the free market economy to the Vatican’s List of Prohibited Books during his long reign in the 19th century. He also formalized the doctrine of papal infallibility.

What these Holy Fathers had in common was not just that they were badly flawed men putting forth badly flawed ideas: At the root of their moral failings is Catholicism’s centuries-old inability to come to grips with sex.

I say this as a somewhat lapsed, but certainly listening, Catholic educated by fine Jesuit minds and encouraged by the open-mindedness of Pope Francis. The big issue behind the budding civil war in a faith of 1.3 billion people — a rift that could plunge the church back into a medieval mind-set on sexuality — is the same old thing.

And most of the church’s backward teachings, dictated by nominally celibate and hypocritical men, have no connection to the words of Jesus.

If you’re going to strike at a pope, to paraphrase the line about taking down a king, you must kill him. Right-wing Catholics, those who think allowing gay members of the faith to worship with dignity is an affront to God, have just taken their best shot at Francis.

The attempted coup was disguised as an exposé by a conscience-stricken cleric, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. He claims that the pope must resign because he knew about the sexual abuse of young seminarians by a disgraced cardinal and did not defrock the predator.

It’s a fair point, and one that demands a full response from Francis. But if you read Viganò’s full 11-page letter, you see what’s really driving him and his ultraconservative cabal — an abhorrence of gay Catholics and a desire to return to the Dark Ages.

“The homosexual networks present in the church must be eradicated,” Viganò wrote. Those close to Francis, he claimed, “belong to the homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.” For theological authority, he cited the infamous 1986 letter to bishops condemning homosexuality as “a moral disorder.”

That instructive was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, designed to do to heretics what the Inquisition once did, without the stake-burning.

The bishop’s letter cites Old Testament sanctions against “sodomites” and a New Testament interpretation from St. Paul, who admitted he was not speaking with direct authority from the divine. St. Augustine, who loved sex and had plenty of it before he hated it, set the church template in the fifth century, saying, “Marriage is only one degree less sinful than fornication.”

What’s missing from these puritanical pronouncements, from then till now, is the figure at the center of the faith. That’s because, outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love. Nothing about homosexuals. Nothing about priestly celibacy or barring women from clerical ranks, for that matter.

Last year, while walking the thousand-year-old Via Francigena, I came upon many Catholics along that pilgrim’s path to Rome excited about the fresh air blowing through a Vatican that hadn’t opened a window in decades. The only cloud over these spiritual sojourners was the constant news about criminal clergy.

The conservatives would do nothing to fix this, but would make the church a global pariah. The old guard is infuriated by statements like the one Pope Francis made on Sunday. When asked how a parent should treat a gay child, he said, “Don’t condemn, have dialogue, listen.”

The way out of the present crisis is more light, less darkness and a few bold and dramatic moves. For starters, clerics should not be judging other clerics; let lay members, women and men, conduct the investigations.

Priestly celibacy should be optional. It’s an anachronism, certainly not one of the “infallible” truths, and may be one of the main reasons pedophilia is thick in clerical ranks. For the first thousand years of the church, married men could become priests, as they still can in the Greek Orthodox faith.

Women should be priests. Duh. When asked about this, Francis said only men could serve because Jesus chose only men as his apostles. This logic is flawed, as Jesus also chose Jews, and you don’t see a lot of them being invited into the priesthood.

A final alternative might be to look to the United States ambassador to the Vatican for moral guidance. That would be Callista Gingrich, who carried on a six-year affair with a married Newt Gingrich and became his third wife. In Rome, as always, hypocrisy is eternal.

Complete Article HERE!

A Catholic Civil War?

Traditionalists want strict adherence to church doctrine. Liberals want the doctrine changed.

By Matthew Schmitz

Pope Francis must resign. That conclusion is unavoidable if allegations contained in a letter written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò are true. Archbishop Viganò, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States from 2011 to 2016, says that Pope Francis knew Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had abused seminarians, but nonetheless lifted penalties imposed on Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI.

No matter what Francis does now, the Catholic Church has been plunged into all-out civil war. On one side are the traditionalists, who insist that abuse can be prevented only by tighter adherence to church doctrine. On the other side are the liberals, who demand that the church cease condemning homosexual acts and allow gay priests to step out of the closet.

Despite their opposing views, the two sides have important things in common. Both believe that a culture of lies has enabled predators to flourish. And both trace this culture back to the church’s hypocritical practice of claiming that homosexual acts are wrong while quietly tolerating them among the clergy.

As the liberal Vatican observer Robert Mickens writes, “There is no denying that homosexuality is a key component to the clergy sex abuse (and now sexual harassment) crisis.” James Alison, himself a gay priest, observes, “A far, far greater proportion of the clergy, particularly the senior clergy, is gay than anyone has been allowed to understand,” and many of those gay clergy are sexually active. Father Alison describes the “absurd and pharisaical” rules of the clerical closet, which include “doesn’t matter what you do so long as you don’t say so in public or challenge the teaching.”

The importance of not challenging church teaching is seen in the contrast of two gay-priest scandals of the Francis pontificate. The first is the case of Msgr. Battista Ricca, a Vatican diplomat who, while stationed in Uruguay, reportedly lived with a man, was beaten at a cruising spot and once got stuck in an elevator with a rent boy. (In Uruguay, the age of consent is 15.) These facts were concealed from Pope Francis, who in 2013 appointed Monsignor Ricca to a position of oversight at the Vatican Bank.

After Monsignor Ricca’s sins were exposed, Francis chose to stand by him, famously saying, “Who am I to judge?” Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa suffered a less happy fate. The priest, who worked at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, announced in 2015 that he was gay and had a male partner, and asked the church to change its teaching. He was immediately fired. Both Monsignor Ricca and Monsignor Charamsa had sinned, but only one had stepped out of line.

The other rule of the clerical closet is not violating the civil law — or at least not getting caught. Francis defended Monsignor Ricca by distinguishing between sins and crimes: “They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different.” This distinction provides cover for sex abuse. When countless priests are allowed to live double lives, it is hard to tell who is concealing crimes. Cardinal McCarrick was widely seen as “merely” preying on adult seminarians. Now he has been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

Corrupt as this situation is, many Catholic leaders prefer it to the coming civil war. That seemed to be the attitude of Bishop Robert Barron when he called for an investigation that avoids “ideological hobby horses” like priestly celibacy and homosexuality. Bishop Barron is right to insist that accountability comes first. This is why anyone implicated in cover-up — up to and including Pope Francis — needs to resign.

But even if all the men at fault are held accountable, the hypocrisy will continue. The real danger the church faces is not ideological challenge from left or right but a muddled modus vivendi that puts peace before truth.

In 2005 the Vatican attempted to address this problem by instructing seminaries to turn away men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” But several Catholic leaders immediately indicated that they would not abide by this rule. Because Pope Benedict did nothing to enforce the decree, it became yet another symbol of Catholic hypocrisy.

According to Catholic teaching, every act of unchastity leads to damnation. But many bishops would rather save face than prevent the ruin of bodies and souls. If the church really does believe that homosexual acts are always and everywhere wrong, it should begin to live what it teaches. This would most likely mean enforcing the 2005 decree and removing clergy members caught in unchastity. If the church does not believe what it says — and there are now many reasons to think that it does not — it should officially reverse its teaching and apologize for centuries of pointless cruelty.

Either way, something must change. Marie Collins, a sex abuse survivor, warned that the crisis in the church is bound to get worse: “More and more countries are going to come forward, and as victims find their voices, it’s going to grow bigger.” Everyone who wants to end sex abuse should pray that the Catholic civil war does not end in stalemate.

Complete Article HERE!

Why don’t women have a role in the Catholic Church?

Cardinals attend Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on March 12, 2013.

By Margery Eagan

I am part of a dying breed: Catholics who still go to church.

At the rate the Catholic hierarchy is disgracing itself, there’ll soon be none of us left.

How many young people want to join a church that remains oddly obsessed with sex? That says no to gays but yes to bishops who let priests rape little children? That considers birth control a “grave sin,” even among the married?

How many young people want to join a church that still demeans and disrespects women, or half the human race?

The Catholic Church won’t ordain women as priests or even deacons, a sort of priest-lite. Incredibly, the church considers ordaining women one of its worst offenses — but on the exact par with sexually attacking boys and girls.

Women have zero power in church decisions, even those directly affecting them. Instead, hundreds of celibate men get together, by themselves, and decide what women need. Conservative Catholics don’t even want girls to join altar boys serving Mass or have women participate in an annual Easter week feet-washing ritual.

Pope Francis, women’s best hope for reform since the 1960s, nonetheless has a depressingly dated and even juvenile perspective. He has called female theologians “strawberries on the cake,” warned women to become mothers and “not an old maid,” and derided grandmothers as no longer “fertile and vibrant.”

For decades, Catholic women outside the church have trashed these and other absurdities. Earlier this week in Ireland, before Francis’ visit there, former Irish president Mary McAleese again criticized the church she has called the world’s primary “carrier of the virus of misogyny” and “a male bastion of patronizing platitudes.” A church that “regularly criticizes the secular world for its failure to deliver on human rights [but] has almost no culture of critiquing itself.” A church that has “never sought a cure [for this] though a cure is readily available . . . equality.”

McAleese, the mother of a gay son, spoke these words at a conference on women in the church this winter that was originally planned for the Vatican. But the Vatican banned McAleese — a former head of state — from speaking. So the conference was relocated.

I am a fan of Jesuits, an order of smart and typically thoughtful priests. Francis is one. Yet I remember well a Boston College event two years ago marking the selection of the new Jesuit leader. The slide show that night featured picture after picture of men, just men, hundreds and hundreds of men in a massive room — not a woman in sight. Some women in the audience exchanged knowing glances. One raised her hand and asked: What about the women? But not a single Jesuit there, if any noticed at all, remarked on how abnormal, almost ridiculous, this all looked.

I don’t think those Jesuits, or many other bishops and priests, recognize the abnormality, the ridiculousness — perhaps because that’s what the Catholic hierarchy is: men in rooms. All men. Only men. But in light of these endless stories of priests’ sadism, all men and only men seems more than abnormal. It seems diseased.

Catholics get the question all the time: Why stay? Lots of Catholics I know say their faith centers on the radical carpenter who started it all, not on the corrupt institution created and dragged close to ruin — one more time — by men. As one disgusted Catholic put it at Mass last week, she still yearns for a church worthy of Jesus Christ.

Getting there means massive reforms. But a church where men and women share power must be among them. Not that women are perfect, of course. But I have no doubt that Catholic women with power in the church would have saved thousands of children from criminal predators all across Pennsylvania, Boston, America, and much of the world. Here’s what women almost never do: rape children.

Complete Article HERE!