It’s been a rough few weeks for the Church, as it continues to struggle with the trauma of clergy sexual abuse amid sickening revelations involving retired Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who resigned as a cardinal over allegations against him, and six Pennsylvania dioceses cited by a grand jury in this shameful unfolding story.
That news was followed by unverified accusations from retired Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former nuncio to the United States, who charged that a number of high Vatican officials, including at least the last two popes, were aware of the accusations against Archbishop McCarrick for years.
Though most cases addressed in the 1,400-page grand jury report from Pennsylvania stretch back decades—as do the unrelated allegations against Archbishop McCarrick—the news is no less shocking and painful to victims of abuse, to the Catholic faithful in general, and to the great majority of priests, bishops and lay Church workers committed to serving God and his people in a trying time.
Many of us believed that this heartbreaking chapter was all but over when the U.S. bishops approved the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that called for zero tolerance for abusers along with a policy of reporting and independent review.
While the charter was quite successful in removing abusing priests and deacons, we are disappointed and distressed to see that its provisions may not fully extend to bishops and others whose actions could be seen as protecting abusers, whether wittingly or unwittingly.
We see, therefore, that there’s a lot more hard work ahead, with compassion and justice for victims and protection of children the top priorities and the need for all levels of the Church to work together to increase transparency and restore trust.
Some of that work has already begun.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, held a series of meetings with the USCCB’s executive committee and other bishops to address the “spiritual crisis” facing the Church and to develop a plan of practical changes to “avoid repeating the sins and failures of the past.”
We’re heartened, too, that the archdiocese, under the leadership of Cardinal Dolan, has long recognized the pain of victims and the damage to the Church caused by sexually abusive members of the clergy. In 2016, therefore, the cardinal instituted the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program that has awarded nearly $60 million to 278 victims in its two years of operation.
It was that process, in fact, that led directly to the exposure of the abuse by Archbishop McCarrick and his removal from ministry and resignation from the College of Cardinals.
The current crisis is sure to prompt state attorneys general and local prosecutors around the country to begin investigations of their own, similar to that conducted in Pennsylvania. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has already contacted district attorneys around the state to enlist their aid in investigating sexual abuse by clergy.
If investigations are indeed launched, the archdiocese will continue its policy of cooperation with law enforcement that’s been in place for nearly 20 years, when Cardinal Egan gave some 40 years worth of information on priests accused of molesting minors to the Manhattan district attorney, who agreed to forward relevant cases to district attorneys elsewhere in the archdiocese.
Meanwhile, at the World Meeting of Families in Ireland—which has struggled with its own sexual abuse crisis—Pope Francis addressed the continuing revelations in a Sunday homily, begging “the Lord’s forgiveness” for the “scandal and betrayal.”
Sadly, the Church will not soon recover from this crisis, and critically needs a massive reordering of practices and priorities for healing to begin.
But we have faith that healing will ultimately happen, and we pray for all who have suffered because of this tragedy.