Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, recently published an article about sexual abuse of minors in the magazine La Civiltà Cattolica.
Father Lombardi enjoys close familiarity with Pope Francis, and the Holy See publishes the magazine. So we can assume that it expresses the Vatican’s thoughts at this point in time. About the upcoming Big Meeting in Rome.
In his article, Father Lombardi misrepresents the history of the McCarrick case. In reviewing the events of 2018, which gave rise to the February 2019 meeting, Lombardi writes:
The former Archbishop of Washington was accused of sexually abusing a minor, an allegation that was found “credible and substantiated” by the review board of the Archdiocese of New York, and of molesting seminarians, and the pope removed him from the College of Cardinals.
First of all, McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals, and the pope accepted his resignation. Second of all, McCarrick’s resignation came not after the finding of the Archdiocese of NY review board, but after the publication in the NY Times of James Grein’s allegations.
Most Orwellian of all: Father Lombardi indicating that accusations regarding McCarrick’s “molesting seminarians” reached the ears of authorities this past summer. In point of fact, we have documentary evidence that a former seminarian accused McCarrick of abuse in 1994. A quarter century ago.
One thing we need to wake up and realize: The US bishops claim that, in 2002, they straightened their sex-abuse problem out. What they really did in 2002 was: Cover it up.
In 2002, they did not resolve all the outstanding cases lingering in their files. They did not admit that they themselves had failed to enforce the basic norms of human decency that upright people know without being taught. They had heard accusations of criminal abuses, and they had not investigated. They had not applied the Church’s own laws.
They, the bishops of the US, had scandalized the world by their mismanagement–their non-management–of sex abuse cases. That was the Scandal of 2002.
But they covered that up by pretending that the problem was the abusing priests. The bishops invoked the empty slogan “zero tolerance”–as if any sane person could ever have tolerated the sexual abuse of a minor. As if the divine law somehow used to tolerate the sexual abuse of minors, but now it doesn’t. Please.
What the bishops did in 2002 was: cover over the reality that stared everyone in the face. Bishops have a duty of governance that requires the prosecution of criminal cases under Church law. But they have neither the will, nor the expertise, necessary to do that duty. They didn’t have it in the 80’s and 90’s; they didn’t have it in 2002; they don’t have it now.
In February, the pope intends to try to do the same trick that the US bishops did in 2002. In 2002, the Boston Globe uncovered numerous unresolved cases of sexual abuse–situations involving particular individuals, in which the Church had failed to see justice done, under Her own law. Rather than face this, the bishops made the whole thing about policies.
Not the victims. Not the cases. Not their own egregious failures. Policies.
The Scandal of 2018 involves individual cases that no one has ever resolved. Pre-eminent among them: the McCarrick case. But the pope wants to make the Scandal of 2018 about policies. Not about his own failures. Not about victims. Again: Policies, policies. (And hopelessly vague policies at that.)
…Now, did someone savvy in Vatican City State intentionally schedule James Grein’s sworn testimony in the McCarrick case for a week when most of the world’s journalists are on vacation? Hard not to think so.
May justice be done. But don’t get your hopes up. Apparently, “the Vatican wants this finalized by the second week of February–the entire case.”
Which could conceivably have happened–if someone started the prosecution last summer. If someone took James’ testimony in August.
But if you’re just now taking preliminary sworn testimony? Then conclude a just criminal process in six weeks? Giving the accused all the rights he enjoys under law? (Which everyone, even Theodore McCarrick, deserves.)
I don’t see how that can happen so quickly. So, either: 1. No just resolution to the case. or 2. A rush to unjust judgment. Either way: Same problem we have had throughout this scandal: incompetence at the episcopal level, including the bishop of Rome.
…Happy New Year to you, dear reader. We all know that everyone should be able to go to confession without worrying that the confessor is a pederast. We all know that when someone accuses a cleric of sexual abuse in 1994, his trial should have long since been concluded, without rushing, by 2019.
But the mafiosi running the Church don’t operate according to the basic standards of decency and justice which we all know. They operate according to some other strange calculus–a desperate narcissism, somehow both sinister and pathetic at the same time.
Now, with a headline like that, either Esquire has resorted to crass anti-Catholic bigotry–and we should raise a stink about it–or there’s some truth to it.
…Peace on earth requires the rule of law. The rule of law means: when someone accuses someone else of a crime–and the accused denies it–the reigning authority provides a secure forum in which to present the evidence.
Then the judge gives a binding verdict, based on the evidence presented. Then a fitting sentence.
This is Peace on Earth 101. The rule of law.
The alternative: Government by arbitrary warlords.
Arbitrary warlords do not mete out justice in open courts, guided by clear laws, and according to the evidence. They arbitrate criminal cases privately, secretly–according to either their own whims or their calculations of expediency.
A secular prosecutor may or may not eventually prove that the Church is a worldwide conspiracy to obstruct justice. The evidence that Esquire presents does not prove as much as the author of the essay claims. But two of the many confusing and scandalous things that happened in the US Catholic Church this week are:
1. Two days ago, the Attorney General of Illinois issued the preliminary findings of her investigation of the Church. She produced a brief and readable document, with no references to any particular cases. She explicitly notes that the investigation has only just begun.
The dioceses of Illinois all responded–not with one statement, but with six. None of the sitting bishops responded in his own name. Nor did the dioceses manage to articulate a response together. That said, all of the diocesan statements sound basically the same: defensive and off-point. None of them engage the helpful insights that the AG offered.
Like: The dioceses of Illinois have not adequately explained to the general public how cases of sexual abuse get adjudicated. Terms like “credible or substantiated allegation” remain woefully unclear. The entire process remains shrouded in the mists of poor communication.
(And if you think there’s a state in the U.S. where the above paragraph isn’t true, then I offer to sell you the state of Illinois for a cheap price!)
2. The same day, the Holy Father accepted the resignation of an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, Alexander Salazar, who is only 69 years old. (Nowhere near the mandatory retirement age of 75.) The Holy See offered no explanation.
The sitting archbishop of Los Angeles, however, offered one. A tortured, incomprehensible, self-defeating explanation.
Turns out a young woman accused Salazar of sexual abuse sixteen years ago. No one held a trial to determine his guilt or innocence. And no one has any intention of holding one now.
Instead, in the Church ruled by Pope Francis, bishop Salazar shuffles off into some undisclosed limbo, neither guilty nor innocent, the whole matter painfully unresolved. Just like McCarrick. And God knows how many others.
Someday someone will investigate the Salazar case. And make the same suggestions that the AG makes in Illinois. Clarify your terms. Make your processes open and honest. Do justice for the wronged.
No one handled the Salazar case according to the rule of law sixteen years ago. No one handled it according to the rule of law in the meantime. And no one handled it according to the rule of law in 2018, either.
…So, what has Christmas 2018 brought us?
The world now knows what many of us priests have known for twenty, thirty, forty years. We have lived in fear of the authorities above us. They do not govern according to rules. A seminarian or priest can wind up in some superior’s “doghouse” for no good reason. And then there’s no way out.
I have served Holy Church under obedience for almost a quarter-century, and it’s been this way the whole time.
None of the superiors I have ever had–the seminary rector, Card. McCarrick, Card. Wuerl, bishop DiLorenzo–none of them governed according to clear rules. None provided an open forum for accusations, with the opportunity to respond. None made decisions based on evidence. All of them conducted their deliberations in secret, did their arbitrary wills, and then covered it over with some thin veil of an implausible rationale.
Warlords always have some cloak of a rationale for their arbitrary decisions. But all you have to do is: Scratch the surface, dig a little, and you discover: Ambiguous terms. Limited documentation. Lack of due process. No rule of law. “The Boss” rules, with no one to challenge him.
Warlords do it that way, and Catholic bishops do it that way. And the pope does it that way.
* Today the pope gave a dramatic speech, including grand promises about not tolerating sexual abuse anymore. But he condemned himself out of his own mouth.
To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice.
Your Holiness: Look in the mirror. You are supposed to be “human justice” in these cases. Your duty is to deliver justice, not endless platitudes. You have made it obvious to the world that you don’t know how to deliver justice. And that you don’t want to know.
Absent a comprehensive and communal response to the abuse crisis facing the Church, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry out the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world.
A committee of four is planning the Roman meeting of Bishops’ Conference presidents, scheduled for the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair, in February.
Three of the committee members gave interviews in English-language publications a few weeks ago…
…All three spoke only in vague platitudes. Archbishop Scicluna specifically ruled out the possibility of the February meeting addressing any canon-law matters, much less any specific cases.
Now, we know well that Vatican meetings have long produced mountains of glittering generalities, which have piled up now over the decades.
But the lack of concrete details in this case is especially disturbing, because the going-around-in-circles aspect glares out at us:
The Holy Father personally wrote to all the presidents of the bishops’ conferences almost four years ago. In his letter of February 2015, Pope Francis urged the presidents to implement a circular letter issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2011.
The CDF had written to assist the bishops’ conferences in formulating the guidelines necessary for synthesizing the demands of canon law and civil law, in cases of a priest accused of sexually abusing a minor, or using child pornography.
In the meantime, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors designed a template for bishops’ conference guidelines.
My point is: Anyone conscientiously following the “paper trail” knows that precise questions of canon law have remained on the table for years now. Also: Who will judge bishops accused of sexual abuse? That question likewise has sat on the table for years.
And yet the organizers of the vaunted February meeting have ruled out the consideration of these concrete questions.
The organizing committee released a letter this morning, from which I have taken the ominous quote above.
My first question upon reading the organizers’ letter is: Has the Holy Father himself written to the bishops’ conference presidents, inviting them to Rome for the February meeting?
I ask this innocent question because: Can anyone reasonably assume that every bishops’ conference president reads the daily Vatican Press Office briefing? I don’t think they do. In fact, I would wager that if you or I called every bishops’ conference president on earth, tonight, and asked him (in his native tongue), “Are you going to Rome in February?” quite a few of them would respond (in their native tongues), “Huh?”
Be all that as it may. Today’s letter from the organizers goes on to ask the bishops’ conference presidents to make sure they “reach out and visit with victim survivors of clergy sex abuse in your respective countries” before February.
Now, at first blush this request seems unobjectionable. But if we put ourselves in the shoes of some imaginary bishops’ conference presidents, the request starts to rankle.
Every conference president has, after all, a prior, more fundamental duty. Namely shepherding and governing his own diocese.
Let’s assume one case: The dutiful bishop who has diligently followed the guidelines as they have come from the Holy See over the course of the past seventeen years. (The procedure for clerical sex-abuse cases was altogether revised in 2001).
If the bishop had diligently followed all the rules, then he would already have had interaction with abuse victims–if such cases had occurred in his diocese. He would have interacted with them as he did his duty to see justice done for them. So he could rightly ask, upon receiving today’s letter: ‘Which victims do you want me to reach out to again, o organizers?’
Now let’s assume a different case: The bishop who neither knows nor cares about the rules. Maybe the organizers are backhandedly trying to “guilt” such bishops into paying attention to sex-abuse victims? If so, is that the right way to do things?
Next question: What lies behind all this spinning around in circles, to no purpose? There is an answer.
A lot of English-speaking Catholics still wonder why Pope Francis has never addressed the specific allegations made by Archbishop Viganò in his August testimony. Namely that Pope Francis knew about Theodore McCarrick abusing seminarians, but did nothing, The pope knowingly allowed a sexual predator to continue to represent the holy Catholic Church as a Roman cardinal.
The pope apparently gave some homilies at his daily Masses in early September, in which he seemed to equate Viganò with the “Great Accuser” intent on destroying Christ’s Church. But the pope never mentioned Viganò by name.
A fulsome exposition of the pope’s thinking–with names attached–can be found, however, in the last ten chapters of Andrea Tornielli and Gianni Valente’s book. (Click here to read about the first four chapters.) The whole answer to the great question, What is the Pope Thinking? is readily available to anyone who can read Italian.
I say this because: Vaticanisti know Tornielli as an inveterate ‘chameleon,’ perfectly willing to change his own ideas in order to maintain access to the reigning pope. Today Tornielli received a reward for this quality of his.
So we must presume that the apologia offered in Il Giorno del Guidizio is not Tornielli’s apologia for Pope Francis, but is the pope’s apologia for himself. The Holy Father’s thinking, as expressed in Tornielli/Valenti’s book, explains his otherwise inexplicable letter to Cardinal Wuerl. The pope accepted the resignation of, and simultaneously praised to the skies, a prelate he regards as an innocent scapegoat, done-in by a nefarious American internet campaign.
So, allow me to schematize the pope’s thinking about Viganò for you, dear reader:
Viganò’s memo belongs to a co-ordinated media attack, which emanates from wealthy American conservative Catholics. The attack comes at the pope for two reasons:
1. Conservative American Catholics misidentify Christian doctrine with Christianity itself.
2. The pope has criticized the international capitalist economy.
Now, we cannot dismiss these assertions out of hand. The pope rightly laments any tendency on the part of us American Catholics to deputize ourselves as Guardians of Purity and Orthodoxy. We have no right to use phrases such as “real Catholics” versus “fake Catholics.” The very Christian doctrine that we cherish teaches us: all baptized people belong to the Catholic Church. And every last one of us relies on God’s mercy for any hope of salvation.
I think we can all agree: Nine times out of ten, the most evangelical thing any zealous Christian can do at any given moment is: Be kind.
I gladly kiss the pope’s hand for reminding us all of this.
Also: The global environmental crisis does threaten future generations. Pope Francis’ Laudato si’ resounds with wisdom. The Paris Agreement took a baby step in the right direction. The pope righly laments our apparent American indifference to the future fate of Mother Earth.
In other words, the pope has managed successfully to convince himself to blow off Viganò’s testimony precisely because: his rationale for blowing it off has some truth to it.
The pope thinks Viganò and the American right wing attacked him in the style of a hostile corporate takeover. Borrowing from the Wall Street playbook, you try to present an unflattering a picture of the CEO, in order to get the stockholders to demand his resignation.
Pope Francis regards this as a tragic, Judas-like betrayal. The pope insists that no true Catholic could ever suggest that the pope resign. The pope is not the CEO; the pope is The Holy Father.
Absent a comprehensive and communal response to the abuse crisis facing the Church, not only will we fail to bring healing to victim survivors, but the very credibility of the Church to carry out the mission of Christ will be in jeopardy throughout the world.
The pope has gotten the whole thing quite wrong. An “American corporate mentality” has not caused the current crisis of confidence in the Church’s hierarchy.
No. We observers–laymen, laywomen, parish priests in the trenches, all of us struggling to live honest Christian lives–we have seen with our own eyes the crushingly disillusioning fact. The current hierarchy of our Church is incompetent.
Neither divisiveness, nor political prejudice, nor fussiness about doctrine, nor malice of any kind leads us to such a conclusion. The conclusion arises from the facts disclosed to the public this year.
What has been revealed? The incumbents of practically all the episcopal thrones that we are familiar with–namely, the American bishops and the pope of Rome–all of them have managed to bring scandal upon our Church by failing to address sex-abuse cases that had languished for years in their own files.
How would an honest Christian react to this revelation, if he sat on one of these thrones? He would say to himself: I clearly do not have the personal intellectual and moral resources necessary to execute the duties of this office. Let me abandon it, so that someone more competent than myself can take over.
But the mafiosi running the Church do not think that way. They think only of protecting their own position, no matter what the cost. Yes, like a father–a father who should go away, for drug rehab or some such thing, but refuses to go.
Anyone watching the work of the American bishops meeting in Baltimore three weeks ago knows that they voted on this:
Be it resolved that the bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops encourage the Holy See to release all the documentation that can be released consistent with the canon and civil law regarding the misconduct of Archbishop McCarrick.
The bishops voted that resolution down.
Meanwhile, laughter in Rome. Why? Because Rome had already released all the info. By talking secretly to two journalists. The book was published November 6.
“Don’t these silly Americans understand how we do things here?” the Roman cardinali thought to themselves. (Among the Roman cardinali, I include Donald Wuerl, certainly one of Tornielli & Valente’s anonymous sources.)
Meanwhile, we American men wonder: Really? Talking off the record to a sympathetic journalist counts as “accountability?”
Anyway, click Part One of my summary of the book, if you haven’t read it already. We continue now with:
Facts about Theodore McCarrick revealed by the unwitting accountability team of Vigano-Tornielli-Valente…
In December 2005, Pope Benedict XVI knew that McCarrick had abused seminarians.
McCarrick turned 75 in July, 2005, still healthy and energetic. I remember it as if it were yesterday; all us Washington priests had to attend a 75th birthday party held in a fancy new dining hall at Georgetown University.
Even though canon law requires the resignation of all bishops at 75, sitting Cardinal Archbishops generally serve at least two extra years, if not four or five.
But McCarrick did not. Having concluded that McCarrick posed a grave danger to the good name of Holy Mother Church, Pope Benedict rushed the replacement process, hastily naming Donald Wuerl as McCarrick’s successor. Well before McCarrick turned 76.
Meanwhile: two things…
1. Everyone knew that Pope Benedict was embarrassing Theodore McCarrick. But we all thought it had to with a fast one that McCarrick had pulled on then-Card. Ratzinger in 2004. Ratzinger had explained that priests could and should withhold Holy Communion from politicians who voted in favor of abortion. McCarrick did not communicate that instruction to his brother American bishops.
We priests in the trenches thought McCarrick got relieved early because of that. Little did we know…
2. The second settlement of an abuse claim against McCarrick ran its course during 2006. Rome got the word.
Vigano wrote about “sanctions” against McCarrick. Vigano supposed that the sanctions began in 2009, after Dr. Richard Sipe published selections from the McCarrick abuse-claim settlement documents.
But the ‘sanctions’ actually began in December of 2006.
Vigano wrote that Pope Francis “lifted” them in 2013.
He did not. Because they had never been enforced at all.
The history recounted in this book–of nuncios and cardinals trying to enforce Pope Benedict XVI’s order that Theodore McCarrick live a retired life of prayer and penance–it reads like the slapstick farce that it was. McCarrick outmaneuvered them all.
Tornielli and Valente document it, in excruciating detail. They propose to contradict Vigano, insisting that Vigano painted an inaccurate picture of a McCarrick effectively punished by Benedict XVI, then liberated by Francis.
But: I don’t remember Vigano insisting that Benedict’s sanctions were effective. As Tornielli and Valente point out, Vigano himself proved utterly inadequate to the task of enforcing them.
Tornielli and Valente try to cast doubt on Vigano’s utterly crucial assertion that he told Pope Francis about McCarrick’s abuses in June of 2013. But Card. Ouellet, prefect of Bishops, has already acknowledged that Vigano probably did tell the pope about McCarrick. (Oullet preposterously claimed that we could hardly expect the pope to focus on such information).
And even if Vigano never told Pope Franis anything about McCarrick, Tornielli and Valente effectively inform us that they all knew anyway–all the Cardinals around the pope. Pope Francis didn’t need Vigano to tell him that McCarrick was a ticking time bomb of scandal that could explode and destroy them all. The pope already knew. He just did not appear to care.
The picture from this hit-piece book against Vigano is manifestly not: Vigano wrong. The picture that emerges is: The people who run our church really, really do not know what they are doing.
I will likely have more to tell you about what I have read, dear reader, but let me close now with:
In 1994, Bishop Hughes of Metuchen, NJ, could have insisted on a church trial of his predecessor, even though that predecessor was his ecclesiastical superior. Trials are ugly, but they do attain the kind of certitude that we can have in this life, about an accused man’s guilt or innocence.
It would have taken a great deal of courage for Hughes to denounce the Archbishop of his province. But the alternative was: Slip into the shadow world of the mafiosi…
In 1999, Cardinal O’Connor could have insisted on a trial of Theodore McCarrick, for violations of the Sixth Commandment with his own seminarians. But he did not. O’Connor wasn’t hung up about guilt or innocence, either; he only cared about whether or not McCarrick got promoted.
(Even the good guys among the mafiosi are still mafiosi, my friends. O’Connor was convinced that McCarrick had preyed on defenseless young men. But still O’Connor never suggested that McCarrick had no business remaining in the throne in Newark–and had no business saying Mass at all.)
John Paul II could have, and should have, conducted a trial. But he preferred to think the best about the charming snake-oil salesman.
Benedict XVI absolutely had to conduct a trial. But he did not do so. He assumed McCarrick was guilty. Meanwhile, McCarrick regarded Benedict’s attempts to closet him in a monastery as a “persecution.” Because McCarrick denies to this day that he did anything wrong.
There’s no getting around this: Pope Benedict XVI is guilty of covering up for Theodore McCarrick. The pope worried about scandal. He did not appear to understand that McCarrick’s victims needed justice. Nor did he understand that more victims would surely come forward.
But we can well imagine that Benedict is suffering his punishment right now. He himself made the choice that leaves him in the impossibly painful position that he now occupies. He knows everything about all this. He knows he made a terrible mistake, out of weakness of will.
And he can say nothing. He has information that could help resolve the problem–The Problem, that he knows has released termites into the very foundations of the Church. But he cannot say anything. Because of the choice that he himself made, to live as the “contemplative ex-pope.”
Pope Francis inherited a nightmare situation in which one of his Cardinals (an unusually prominent one) stood accused of grave abuses. But his guilt had never been proved; it had never even been put on trial, by anyone.
Pope Francis absolutely, positively had to conduct a trial, to establish McCarrick’s guilt definitively and remove him from the clerical state.
Instead, Pope Francis blew the whole thing off completely.
Until a man came forward accusing McCarrick of abusing him while he was still a minor. And this apocalypse we have lived through, and continue to live through, began.
Il Giorno del Giudizio (The Day of Judgment) by Andrea Tornielli and Gianni Valente
Dear reader, your unworthy servant reads the Italian. So I can inform you of what this book says. They published it in Italy a month ago, and it says a lot:
Two Vatican journalists, intent on making Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano look bad, obtained access to some very knowledgeable churchmen. The churchmen talked.
First: Thedore-McCarrick-related facts, heretofore unknown to the public, which we learn in the first four chapters of this book…
1. The Vatican began to look for a replacement for James Card. Hickey, Archbishop of Washington, in early 1999.
John Card. O’Connor, then-Archbishop of New York, had heard about McCarrick abusing seminarians. He wrote to Rome, warning Pope John Paul II that choosing the incumbent of Newark for Washington would lead to a colossal scandal: “The American clergy will become divided, and the reputation of the hierarchy will suffer, with mud on the Church.”
Tornielli and Valente include the reason why O’Connor knew. The priest who eventually received a settlement payment in 2004 had complained to Bishop Edward Hughes, McCarrick’s successor in the diocese of Metuchen, NJ, about McCarrick’s abuse. He complained about it in 1994.
In his August testimony, Archbishop Vigano painted a picture of an enfeebled John Paul II who wasn’t really in the decision-making loop in AD 2000. Tornielli and Valente successfully undermine that picture. I myself had the privilege of meeting the pope in the year 2000; he was somewhat enfeebled. Out-of-it? No way.
Cardinal O’Connor’s letter led to a yearlong delay in choosing a successor for Washington. During that year, Cardinal O’Connor died. Meanwhile, McCarrick wrote Rome, denying the accusations against him.
John Paul II believed the man who had spoken Polish to him, and to Bill Clinton, in Newark in 1995.
[Would like to pause here for one moment, dear, attentive reader.
Discussion of McCarrick’s career tends to focus on his ‘promotion’ to Washington in 2000. But this obscures an important fact: sitting in the episcopal throne of the Archdiocese of Newark, while less prestigious, actually involves shepherding a lot more people. And Newark, unlike Washington, has multiple suffragan sees. Washington barely qualifies as an archdiocese; it has only one very-small suffragan see.
What if McCarrick had not become the Archbishop of Washington? He would not have ascended to the College of Cardinals. But his depredations would still have wounded the faith of thousands upon thousands of Catholics. And hundreds of priests.
Archbishop Vigano, and Tornielli and Valente, have given us a lot of information about events in Rome and Washington since 1999. But we can’t forget: the story of Theodore McCarrick is fundamentally the story of a New-York priest who became a bishop and archbishop in New Jersey. And apparently did quite a few terrible things. Which got covered-up, even before his name appeared on anyone’s list of candidates for Archbishop of Washington in 1999.
McCarrick’s abuses would demand a serious reckoning–of who knew what, and when–even if the ball had bounced a different way for Washington in the year 2000.
Anyway, back to the facts revealed in the book…]
2. In the process of trying to make Vigano look dishonest, Tornielli and Valente make him look fundamentally honest. Their sources corroborate all of these assertions:
On the day after the Vatican announced the pope’s choice for Washington, a former seminary professor in Newark wrote to the Holy See, at the insistence of the then-nuncio to the US, Gabriel Montalvo. The professor re-iterated O’Connor’s charges against McCarrick. (O’Connor’s prior letter explains why Montalvo already knew something about it.)
Tornielli and Valente have a lovely paragraph outlining their presumption (which I believe accurate) that McCarrick ceased his depredations upon arriving in Washington:
The diocese doesn’t have a beach house to which he could invite seminarians. And seeing how close he was to the marble halls of the federal institutions, to the Congress and the President of the USA, McCarrick knew that, with so many eyes focused on him, he had to be much more careful.
In December 2005, the sitting Bishop of Metuchen, NJ, Paul Bootkoski, reported to the Apostolic See this fact: his diocese had secretly settled claims of abuse against McCarrick made the previous year.
(In the meantime, McCarrick had participated in the Sistine-chapel conclave held after the death of JP II.)
At this point, the authors’ sources tell them: Bootkoski, Montalvo (the nuncio), and the officials of the Roman dicasteries all acknowledge the fundamental fact. This problem now sits squarely on the desk of the new pope, Benedict XVI. Only the Holy Father can judge and sentence a Cardinal of the Roman Church…
(My dear mom has a Ph.D. in history and has done extensive research on the Reformation.)
Is the present-day Catholic crisis more dangerous than the indulgence crisis, which led to the Protestant Reformation?
In Catholic teaching, obtaining an indulgence means substituting for penance following genuine confession. This is no problem and caused no crisis.
Problems came when the selling of indulgences became big business. The market opened up after the pope in 1476 declared that an indulgence could be purchased on behalf of another, for example, on behalf of a dead relative suffering in purgatory. In the following decades, cardinals and archbishops led great indulgence-selling campaigns to support the building and rebuilding of churches, the performance of pilgrimages, crusades against the Turks.
A tipping point came when Pope Leo X in 1515 proclaimed the sale of an indulgence for building St. Peter’s in Rome. Martin Luther, a devout priest and monk, posted his 95 Theses because he feared that parishioners – the sheep of his flock and the victims in this crisis – were being taught that their money could buy God’s forgiveness when they purchased an indulgence.
Which is more dangerous to the church – a crisis based on money or a crisis based on the damaged lives of human persons? The money did some worthwhile good, but absolutely no good comes from Christians damaging lives and covering up the damage.
Will today’s Catholic church escape the church’s 16th century punishment: tens of thousands of church members following the excommunicated Luther out of the church?
Don’t count on escaping similar losses to the church. In 16th century Europe, people were interested in religion; they wanted to go to church. We all know that in our culture there is little interest in religion and quite a bit of scorn for it. Think about the people who will leave the church as this crisis grinds on, and then think about how God’s children who should come into the church in the future will not do so because the image of its leadership is morally repellent.
Dear Catholic brothers and sisters, I’m a Lutheran but I know that this crisis in your church affects all of us Christians. Please fight for your church. By excommunicating Luther, 16th century church leaders dealt with a symptom of their problem, but not with the problem itself, which they themselves had caused. Today’s church leaders do the same thing. They plan meetings to pretend to cope with the crisis, thus avoiding the crisis itself, which they themselves have caused. They spurn and condemn the very journalists and activists who have given the sex-abuse victims a platform to speak.
Please fight this church leadership. Call your own meetings and ask bishops to testify under oath. Plan mass protests. Attend meetings you’re forbidden to attend and risk arrest. Write letter after letter, blog post after blog post. Fight for the return of truth and morality to your church.
Remember: the 16th century crisis led to the break up of the Catholic Church. The present day crisis is even more dangerous.
DiNardo had known about the abuse for the past eight years. He had promised one of the victims that the abusing priest would never again have the opportunity to interact with children. But the priest continued in parish ministry until his arrest in September.
2. The meeting in February
In three months and six days, the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences will meeting in Rome. For the first time. Ever.
No customs exist to guide the proceedings. Will every president have ten minutes to speak? If so, that will occupy nineteen hours. That fills two and a-half of the four days scheduled for the meeting. One assumes that the pope and some Vatican officials will also speak.
Doesn’t leave much time for anything else. Like discussion. Or voting on anything.
No public documents governing the February meeting exist. The only written reference to the meeting is a September 12 “Communiqué of the Council of Cardinals.” (The “Council of Cardinals” is itself a body without a history or any clear authority.)
Have the presidents of the bishops conferences received official invitations to the meeting from Pope Francis himself? If so, what do those invitations say?
(To be honest with you, dear reader, I think it is likely that, at this moment, some bishops’ conference presidents do not know anything about this meeting yet. Some presidents certainly will not appear, owing to ill health; some may not appear because they never heard anything about it.)
The Catholic world has Roman-rite and non-Roman-rite bishops’ conferences. The Roman-rite conferences fall into twelve regions. I believe there are 114 Roman-rite conferences. Plus a handful of non-Roman conferences.
A meeting of bishops’ conference presidents cannot claim proportional representation; it will make our US Senate look proportional by comparison. Huge conferences–like our own, or India’s, or Brazil’s–have one president. So do small conferences, like New Zealand, Liberia, or Latvia.
The presidents of bishops’ conferences do not all speak Italian. I would daresay that only a tiny minority of them do.
Last month the Vatican hosted a Synod of Bishops. Some Synod fathers complained about having to vote on a final document that they could not understand, since it had been written in Italian and no translations had been made. As of today, the Vatican website still has only the Italian version of the final Synod document; no translations.
What text will serve as a point-of-departure for the meeting?
The pope insisted that all Christians must live in solidarity with the victims of sexual abuse. He invited us all to fast and do penance. He condemned “clericalism.” He called sexual abuse an “atrocity.”
Will this letter serve as the point-of-departure for the February meeting?
If so, I foresee some problems. Imprecisely lumping sexual abuse in with ‘atrocities’–acts of cruelty usually associated with war–does not help. ‘Clericalism’ is a problem in search of a definition.
But if the Holy Father’s letter will not serve as the point-of-departure for discussion, what will? Will the Holy See publish anything between now and then? If so, when?
My point here: I think we fall into naivete of the most blameworthy kind if we imagine that one four-day meeting of the world’s bishops’ conference presidents will result in anything specific or concrete. Best case scenario for the February meeting: Universal agreement that sexual abuse is bad.
3. Card. DiNardo promised the impossible:“The eradication of sexual abuse from our Church.”
I think we can rest assured: If human efforts could eradicate sexual abuse from the Church, St. Peter himself would have done it. But in this real, fallen world of ours, we have to contend with unpleasant things like people sexually abusing minors.
The problem we have in the Catholic Church is: No one running the operation has any idea what to do when sexual abuse occurs. That has been The Scandal. Still is.
And the fantasy that the February Vatican meeting will address the scandal is itself quite scandalous.
Ever seen the Sistine Chapel? Michelangelo painted the ceiling, and the wall behind the altar. Do the paintings communicate a message? A grim one? A hopeful one?
The ceiling gives us our past. The creation, the prophets. And behind the altar: What we will ultimately face. Judgment by Jesus. Not grim; not dark. Luminous and splendid.
Michelangelo had a “theological consultant.” Martin Luther’s ecclesiastical superior, the head of the Augustinian order. Giles of Viterbo.
Michelangelo painted. Meanwhile, on the other side of Rome, an ecumenical Council began in the Lateran Basilica.
A group of Cardinals had met a few years before, and had “suspended” Pope Julius II. Like the principal suspending a delinquent student. Though, in this case, the Cardinals had no authority to “suspend” the pope.
But they did have reason. At his election to the See of Peter, Julius had sworn, under oath, to convene an ecumenical Council to address the degradation of the Church. And Julius took his time doing it. He preferred to fight wars. Literally. He practically abandoned the sacred functions of his office and fought in the battlefield instead.
Pope Julius finally fulfilled his promise, in 1512. And Giles of Viterbo gave the Council’s opening address.
The sacred things of our religion: it is not for us to change them, the preacher declared. We must let them change us.
Giles warned the assembled bishops and the pope that Christianity stood on the brink of utter collapse, because the Church had all but lost Her connection with the sources of Her life. The sacred traditions coming from Christ. The life of prayer. The struggle against vice, especially against worldliness, avarice, and sexual impurity.
Giles did not spare the pope. Julius had focused on the wrong battles, Giles declared, expending himself on futile military enterprises. The real battle had to be fought in prayer.
But Giles hoped for a better day. With the pope and bishops meeting together in Council, they could focus on the Christian religion as they had received it–in the sacred texts and traditions. They could survive and thrive by uniting in the unchanging essentials.
…A lot of the drama sounds eerily familiar. Let’s have the same hope. It is not for anyone to change the sacred realities of our religion. It is for them to change us.
Pope St. John Paul II began his ministry as the pope. Over the course of the ensuing quarter century, many of us came to revere John Paul II as a hero and a spiritual father.
During the 1980’s, when I was in high-school, some of us held on to the pope for dear life. It seemed like he alone, on the whole face of the earth, offered a brave witness to sexual sanity, to chastity–while everyone else was awash in condoms and broken marriages.
Many of us spent the 90’s reading John Paul II’s writings. He consumed himself with teaching the faith inherited from the Apostles. He traveled the world and used the power of his reverberating voice and magnetic charm to evangelize.
Technocrats and feminists hated his intransigence on artificial contraception, abortion, divorce, and the men-only ministerial priesthood. Political and aesthetic conservatives hated his rejection of the capitalist profit motive and his embrace of Vatican II.
But in the middle, we vast multitudes of spiritual children listened eagerly to the man we loved as a trustworthy father. A lot of us wept more bitterly on the day that he died than we had since we were babies. Mainly because we knew we wouldn’t hear the sound of his voice on earth again.
Looking back now with 20/20 hindsight, we can wish that JP II had applied himself more to the reform of the Roman Curia. We can wish that he had understood the sex-abuse crisis better–understood it more as a practical matter, rather than as a purely spiritual one.
And we can recognize: The way Popes Paul VI and John Paul II defined the Roman papacy after Vatican II left a huge gap in authority. That gap has now brought the Church to the point of paralysis.
Bishops need a disciplinarian, too—just like priests, seminarians, doctors, nurses, accountants, lawyers, bricklayers, school children–everybody needs a disciplinarian. But the world’s Catholic bishops don’t have one. The whole post-Vatican II system of Church governance assumes that bishops will do right. But, as we now know all too well, often they do not.
So St. John Paul II had human faults, blind spots—which we did not want to see, as we listened to him heroically urge us on to holiness.
But let’s go back to October 22, 1978, to what he said in his homily that day. His words resonate today with even more force than they had then.
Our time calls us, urges us, obliges us, to gaze on the Lord and to immerse ourselves in humble and devout meditation on the mystery of the supreme power of Christ himself…
The absolute, and yet sweet and gentle, power of the Lord responds to the whole depths of the human person, to his loftiest aspirations of intellect, will and heart. It does not speak the language of force, but expresses itself in charity and truth.
The new Successor of Peter in the See of Rome today makes a fervent, humble and trusting prayer: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of your unique power, the servant of your sweet power, the servant of your power that knows no dusk….
Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide the doors for Christ… Christ knows ‘that which is in man.’ He alone knows it.
…Man does not know that which is in him, in the depths of his mind and heart… He is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you, therefore, we beg you with humility and with trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of life eternal.
The Christian mystery must be taken literally, with the greatest possible realism, because it has a value for every time and place. –Pope St. John Paul II, Divini Amoris Scientia
Your humble servant had the privilege of attending the Roman Consistory of February 21, 2001. Pope John Paul II created Jorge Bergoglio, Theodore McCarrick, and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor Cardinals, along with 43 other prelates and theologians, including the well-known Walter Kasper.
During the ceremony, candidates for Cardinal solemnly profess their faith before the pope. They use the same formula that I had just used myself a few weeks before, in the seminary rector’s office, since I was to be ordained in a matter of months.
The solemn Profession of Faith taken by Cardinals (and potential deacons and priests) goes like this:
“I, [name], firmly believe… 1. The Nicene Creed 2. “Everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in tradition, which the Church sets forth for belief.”
So, we in the Square heard, on February 21, 2001:
I, Theodore, firmly believe…everything contained in the Word of God.
Also: I, Jorge… I, Cormac… I, Walter…
I did not, on that day, credit the rumors then circulating that McCarrick had a past as a homosexual predator of seminarians. I thought his conservative enemies spread those rumors. That’s the explanation for the rumors that McCarrick himself gave us.
But: I did doubt the man’s full sincerity in saying that he firmly believed everything contained in the Word of God. I doubted Walter Kasper’s sincerity there, too.
I doubted Kasper based on the evidence of his own theological opinions. I had read his book Jesus the Christ. He there suggests that the Lord Jesus did not know everything.
An intricate theological dispute could emerge here, but I will save that for another day. Suffice it to say I had some reason in doubting Kasper’s complete honesty in his Solemn Profession of Faith on February 21, 2001.
In those days, I don’t think any reasonable observer of the situation at the Catholic University of America could have failed to recognize:
On the one hand, The Catechism of the Catholic Church invokes the historical authority of Sacred Scripture in one way. For instance: The Catechism assumes the accuracy of the four gospels regarding historical details. And assumes that an ancient flood did, in fact, occur. And that Abraham was a real person. Etc.
On the other hand, the professors at CUA taught something else. Like: we need exegetical theories about the underlying sources of the books of the Bible–in order to separate fact from myth.
This unacknowledged discrepancy caught us seminarians in a vise. And it seemed to me that our entire future as preachers hung in the balance. If we could not assume that everything we read out loud at Mass from the Word of God is simply true, then what kind of homilies could we give?
Of course this doesn’t mean that historical study isn’t necessary. Human beings did, in fact, write the Bible. God intends to convey the meaning that the human authors intended to convey. But no one comes to church to listen to the priest explain to them the ways in which the Bible isn’t true.
I don’t mean to make myself a martyr, dear reader. But the fact is: ten months after JP II created McCarrick a Cardinal, I got kicked out of the seminary. For refusing to say that the Flood didn’t happen.
For the next eighteen months, the Archbishop was happy to let me dangle, living in rectory attics, hoping I would walk away. Even though I had already promised God I would serve Him for life as a deacon, and then a priest.
Eventually, McCarrick ordained me. For that I am grateful. But the truth is he had no choice–since he had already ordained me a deacon, and I had committed no crime. And the pastors I lived and worked with begged him to ordain me.
The fact is, as far as I could tell, McCarrick did not care at all about the facts surrounding my expulsion from the seminary. He never ‘spoke one word’ to me about it. As far as I know, he never asked the seminary rector, “Did Mark break one or more of your rules?” The Archbishop knew perfectly well that I had not broken any rules. I just refused to accept the idea that preaching could find a foundation in the historical-critical method.
It began to dawn on me, even then, dear reader: These mafiosi who run this institution do not care about facts. They operate only on the level of slogans. They please ‘the masses’ with saccharine abstractions, calculated to avoid all controversy. Since we sheep have a religious obligation to give these men the benefit of the doubt, we accept their empty sloganeering; we even give it a charitable interpretation. The damage that such empty sloganeering does to the integrity of people’s faith–well, we ignore it. That is: Until the summer of 2018.
McCarrick had a favorite slogan for us seminarians and young priests. He would conjure the image of JP II visiting Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark. “He walked right down the middle of the aisle, so he could reach out and touch the people on both sides,” McCarrick said over and over. “We have to be like that. Down the middle.”
I would think to myself: What does he mean? Down the middle of what? Both sides of what?
So: My doubts about McCarrick’s sincerity in the Profession of Faith in St. Peter’s Square in February 2001–they had some foundation. Little did I know then how much foundation they in fact had.
…What about the two other Cardinals I mentioned when I began? One of them went on to become pope. Jorge Bergoglio. Pope Francis.
Recently Mr. Steve Skojec of onepeterfive.com wrote the essay that I was on the verge of writing. Skojec accuses Pope Francis of “gaslighting.”
Now, this psychological term enjoys a certain vogue right now. But that doesn’t mean it ain’t real. The best definition I have come across for “gaslighting” is the movie, The Girl on the Train. (Watch at your own risk; it’s rough.)
Anyway: Is it true? Is Pope Francis gaslighting the Catholic people? Trying to trick us into thinking of him as an honest and loving spiritual father–when in fact he is altogether otherwise?
To try and answer this question as impartially as possible, I plowed through two books simultaneously. The Dictator Pope by Henry Sire, under the pen-name Marcantonio Colonna. And The Great Reformer by Austin Ivereigh.
The Dictator Pope is basically this: An illuminating arrangement of facts gleaned from the conservative Catholic press these last five years, supplemented with some additional anonymous-source information. Sire organizes the facts masterfully, to paint a convincing picture of the man.
The man who rose to the Chair of Peter through the avowed machinations of what is widely known as the “St. Gallen Mafia”–a caucus of liberal western-European prelates who spent their careers waiting for John Paul II to die. (Walter Kasper among them.)
The Dictator Pope reviews the entire controversy of the Family Synods and Amoris Laetitia, which we have covered in detail here on this little weblog. Sire tells the heartbreaking story of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate in Italy, an order of primitive Franciscan observance and pure faith–which Pope Francis apparently destroyed. Sire even brings Archbishop Carlo Viganò into the story–way before Viganò issued his McCarrick testimony–by recounting the failed reform of the finances of the Holy See.
Judge Burke, who tirelessly served the U.S. Bishops during the last sex-abuse scandal in 2002, objected to a directive from the American superior of the Knights and Ladies of Malta. To this effect: Stay out of the current controversy.
Judge Burke resigned over this. She intends to “continue to speak out about the need to investigate the underlying causes and conduct by the hierarchy in our church that permitted these crimes to continue.”
Back to the The Dictator Pope. Sire explains Pope Francis like this: You will never understand him if you think of him as a priest. He cannot be understood as someone who fundamentally sees himself as a humble steward of divine mysteries. Rather, Sire contends, the pope is a “Peronist”–an opportunistic politician, intent on pleasing the audience in front of him at the moment. In other words, a professional sloganeer.
Which brings us to the other book.
Austin Ivereigh, author of The Great Reformer, served briefly as Cormac Card. Muphy-O’Connor’s public-relations assistant. (As I mentioned earlier, St. JP II created Murphy-O’Connor a Cardinal alongside Bergoglio and McCarrick, in February 2001.)
Anyway, Ivereigh has written a more substantial book than Sire. Ivereigh recounts fascinating facts of Argentine history. I loved reading this biography, which includes a full history of the Jesuit Reductions (immortalized in the movie The Mission). I loved reading it–until I got bored with the subject. Namely, Jorge Bergoglio.
Don’t think of him as a priest. So insists Henry Sire.
Ivereigh’s book brough back a flood of memories. From my Jesuit days.
I fell in love with the Society of Jesus in 1992, served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, teaching at a Jesuit school for inner-city boys, then entered the novitiate, did the thirty-day silent retreat, lived with Jesuits in Mexico for two months, spent the summer at Forham in the Bronx…
Then, in 1996, I left. Because I wanted to be a priest.
Sounds strange, because Jesuits are priests. But, for those of Bergoglio’s generation, the priesthood only got in the way. The priesthood, as someone put it so well, involves serving primarily as a kind of beast of burden. Say your Mass. Hear confessions. Baptize the babies. Bury the dead. Try to give a good homily–but, above all, keep it short.
There’s nothing theoretical about any of these priestly duties. Forgive me for putting it this way, but it serves the purpose: There’s nothing theoretical about conjugal relations between husband and wife. Such things occur in a given place, at a given time. Same thing for the Catholic priesthood. Show up and do your duty. This aspect of priestly life Jesuits find altogether inconvenient. It gets in the way of the realization of their grand theories of things.
Back to Ivereigh’s hagiography–er, biography. Eventually it becomes impossible to take Ivereigh seriously. He lauds Jorge Bergoglio as the spiritual equal of St. Ignatius Loyola and the oratorical equal of Abraham Lincoln. Ivereigh calls Bergoglio’s speech during the General Congregation of Cardinals prior to the Conclave of 2013 “a second Gettysburg address.” Please.
What made the book grow so boring I had to give up on it? The Argentinian politics which Ivereigh narrates so meticulously ultimately became a battle of sloganeers. On the one side: President Nestor Kirchner. On the other side: the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio.
Ivereigh knows a lot of Argentine history. He does not appear to know a lot of theology. But one theological slogan interests him. Namely, “episcopal collegiality.”
Ivereigh convicts John Paul II of grave sins against episcopal collegiality. According to Ivereigh (and the members of the St. Gallen Mafia), the late sainted pope “centralized” the government of the Church, to a fault. Vatican II had intended to restore authority to the local church. But JP II stood in the way.
Perhaps there’s actually something to this, in areas other than sexual morality. And the Sacred Liturgy.
But “episcopal ollegiality” serves as the “states’ rights” slogan for the pro-gay, pro-divorce Church crowd. In this way:
Dr. Martin Luther King enlightened America about the fallacy of the ‘states rights’ argument (which by then was 140 years old). Dr. King taught America: We will never have quiet consciences as long as racism prevails. Instead, we will try to cover over our consciences with dishonest slogans. The dishonest slogan of Southern American racism is: States’ Rights! But the fact is that no state has a right to make racism legal; it can’t be made legal. Not really, anyway. Because institutionalized racism (not to mention chattel slavery) will always disturb people of conscience.
Same thing goes for homosexuality, divorce, fornication, artificial contraception, etc. Ecclesiastical liberals cry: Collegiality! Authority belongs the local church! Rome needs to loosen the grip of her heavy hand! (So insisted the St. Gallen Mafia. And so insists Pope Francis.)
But these cries against “Roman centralization” ascend to heaven in vain. John Paul II didn’t make artificial contraception and homosexuality immoral. God made it immoral. Local authority cannot contravene laws that bind every human conscience.
Even our current sloganizing, gaslighting pope can’t silence the inner voice of truth that troubles people’s consciences. And Pope Francis’ attempts to do so–especially his false mercy to Theodore Edgar McCarrick–have disturbed my conscience. Mightily.