The Pennsylvania Attorney General released a grand jury report on sex abuse in six dioceses that is not news, because we all knew this was happening everywhere, but it’s also newsworthy: in every single diocese the practices were eerily identical. When bishops learned about abusers, they trivialized the harm to the children and moved the predator around. It is like reading the same story over and over again; just the names change. The relentlessness of the report in its numbers (over 1,000 victims and over 300 priest perpetrators) and frankness puts a lie to the Catholic bishops’ favorite refrain that the sex abuse crisis is behind them. Right.
Pope Francis was silent when the report was first released, and then apologized. He didn’t do anything.
Then came the report that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, DC, had sexually abused numerous seminarians, taking advantage of his position of power time after time. Turns out Francis knew about McCarrick and didn’t do anything about him either. In a surreal moment, only this latter move has led a member of the hierarchy to call for his resignation.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano let loose with an 11-page letter suggesting Francis resign because he knew about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abusing seminarians and did nothing. Vigano says that the Church is trapped in a “fetid swamp” and calls for the “courage to tear down the culture of secrecy and publicly confess the truths we have kept hidden.” Well, yes, but this is the trigger? What about those thousands of children abused by mere priests for decades and documented in California, Delaware, Hawaii, and Minnesota cases and Pennsylvania grand jury reports? He skims right over them.
He loses credibility when he states that he “had always believed and hoped that the hierarchy of the Church could find within itself the spiritual resources and strength to tell the whole truth.” When exactly was that a rational assumption? But suddenly now he is crestfallen, because “the corruption has reached the very top of the Church’s hierarchy” because Francis knew about McCarrick and did nothing. Why is this suddenly the moment for outrage and a demand of papal resignation?
May I ask one simple question: where the hell has Vigano been? They have all known for decades upon decades about clerical sexual abuse—regardless of clerical level—in the church. The notion that somehow McCarrick is a new story or the cover-up is new is nearly schizophrenic in its reasoning.
Ahh, but Vigano himself says there has been no cover-up by the higher-ups about McCarrick (other than Francis and a few of his allies), because the men in power “did not fail to inform the Holy see immediately, as soon as they learned of Archbishop McCarrick’s gravely immoral behavior with seminarians and priests.” In other words, they sent that information up the ladder of the hierarchy and then waited. He seems to think that that makes them venerable and moral.
Has Vigano been living in a cave where, say, no stories about sexual abuse at Penn State were reported? Joe Paterno reported it to the higher-ups but that did not absolve him. To the contrary, he was condemned and he accepted the criticism because he did not report the abuse himself to the authorities. Reporting up is no defense. The reason it is no defense is because the children still suffer. Only someone incapable of caring about the victims would be so sanguine about the men who tell their supervisors and then do no more. It’s all about the adults on this telling, and that means it’s not yet about the children.
Vigano documents how cardinals and bishops were busy discussing McCarrick’s misdeeds within the institution ad nauseum. No one reported him to the police. No one did anything but report it up the chain. Yet, “for once,” he says that he hoped that “ecclesiastical authority would intervene before the civil authorities and, if possible, before the scandal had broken out in the press.” Did he just now figure out that it would be savvier to report abuse to the authorities themselves before they are caught red-handed covering up a criminal?
He says the McCarrick story is “a new scandal of particular gravity, as it regarded a cardinal.” What? So are young victims less injured when they are sexually assaulted by a mere priest?
He then turns on former Pittsburgh bishop Donald Wuerl, now Cardinal of Washington, DC, saying that “the recent revelations regarding his behavior as Bishop of Pittsburgh” has “completely compromised him.” Ok, now we’re talking about punishing the ones who cover up child sex abuse. But that was a detour and he returns to the shock of the whole McCarrick thing. How could Francis not have done more—to remove McCarrick? He says that Francis “asked for total transparency in the Church …” and he turned out not to be transparent and so he should go. Well, well, well.
I mean, in the end, McCarrick is forced out, but think of all those bishops across the United States who have hidden child predators and then fought the victims tooth and nail in court and the legislatures. Think of the children’s suffering during the abuse and the revictimization afterward. Those men remain fully in power and Vigano has nothing to say about them.
The implicit and clearly unintended logic of this missive is this: all those who have covered up sex abuse in the Church should be forced to resign. The problem for Vigano is that that means the entire hierarchy must go. The ones who “report up” are as culpable as the ones who are at the very top and do not make a report or punish the wrongdoer. And the ones who do nothing and stand silent, yes, they too are at fault. They all know and have known for decades.
If one ever needed a document that proves it is time for the hierarchy to depart stage left, so that perhaps this institution could salvage some decency, this is it.
Lawmakers: when you are considering what to do about the scandal of child sex abuse that has fallen into your laps again, I highly recommend this letter, which should remind you that the protection of children is your job. Endangering children is in this institution’s DNA at this point. Would you ask an arsonist how to prevent forest fires?