The two greatest Catholic sins of our time are the disgusting sexual abuse of our young people by priests and the reprehensible shielding of both crimes and perpetrators by many bishops and cardinals. Why, then, do I mention Jesus in the title? As a reminder that at its core the Catholic faith is not about consecrated men with impressive titles who make “magisterial” pronouncements, but about the One who loved us enough to suffer and die for our salvation. This fact consoles me as I write about these horrible events in the life of today’s Church.
Part 1 examined the findings of the August 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, a detailed account of 1000 cases of abuse by 300 priests that was similar in its findings to the 2004 John-Jay report of 10,667 victims younger than age 18. The most notable similarity was the shameful way in which the bishops handled the incidents—by covering up the sins/crimes and transferring the abusers to other parishes where they typically victimized other children.
After examining the causes of the bishops’ (and in some cases, cardinals’) abdication of their responsibilities to the victims, Part 1 suggested a number of qualities that bishops and cardinals should possess and the prerequisites they should meet, notably the completion of at least five years of pastoral service in a Catholic parish before being elevated to the office of bishop.
Soon after Part 1 was published, two startling new revelations were reported in the media.
The first revelation was that the New York State Attorney General is planning to convene a grand jury to investigate alleged sexual abuses in eight dioceses in that state: New York, Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Rockville Center, Ogdensburg, Rochester, and Syracuse.
The stories in each diocese are much the same. For example, according to reports, sexual abuse was reportedly a problem in the New York Archdiocese from the time of Cardinal Francis Spellman (1939-1967) through Terence Cooke (1968-1983), John O’Connor (1984-2000), and Edward Egan (2000-2009). Similarly, in the Albany diocese abuse occurred during the combined 45 year tenure of Bishop Edwin Broderick (1969-1976) and Bishop Howard Hubbard (1977-2014). Broderick was a protégé of Cardinal Spellman, who also ordained Theodore McCarrick. Hubbard was consecrated by Terence Cooke and Edwin Broderick.
Reportedly, Bishop Hubbard was not only responsible for “promoting an agenda of homosexuality, androgyny and sexual dysfunction,” but was himself an active homosexual who told a young priest, Fr. Thomas Zalay, that celibacy meant nothing more than “being free of sexual contact with women” and therefore homosexual acts were permissible. A year after Hubbard pressured Zalay into having sex with him, Zalay committed suicide.
The second revelation was that Pope Francis himself allegedly ignored the sexual abuses of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The claim was made by Archbshop Carlo Maria Viganò, at one time a high Vatican official and later the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, and documented in his statement, “Testimony,” which may be summarized as follows:
In 2006 and again in 2008 Viganò reported Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior to his superiors and urged that he be stripped of his office as Cardinal and subjected to the appropriate sanctions, which included being laicized. No immediate action was taken, he claims, despite the fact that more than 20 cardinals and bishops knew of the McCarrick scandal. In 2009 or 2010, however, Pope Benedict imposed severe sanctions on McCarrick.
On March 13, 2013, Francis replaced Benedict as Pope. On June 20 of that same year, Viganò happened to meet McCarrick in Rome and McCarrick told him, “The Pope received me yesterday, tomorrow I am going to China,” implying that the sanctions had been lifted. Three days later Viganò met with Francis and told him that McCarrick had “corrupted generations of seminarians and priests and Pope Benedict [had] ordered him to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance.”
Viganò concludes that, “[Even if he did not know earlier], the Pope learned about [McCarrick] from me on June 23, 2013 and continued to cover for him. “He did not take into account the sanctions that Pope Benedict had imposed on [McCarrick] and made him his trusted counselor . . . [thus] multiplying exponentially with his supreme authority the evil done by McCarrick.” Accordingly, Viganò calls for Pope Francis to “be the first to set a good example” by resigning the papacy.
Why did Viganò publish this testimony? Because, he explained, “I am an old man and I want to present myself to God with [a] clean conscience.” When asked whether he is worried about criticism, he answered, “The secrets in the Church, also the pontifical ones, are not taboos. They are instruments for protecting her and her children from her enemies. The secrets are not to be used for conspiracies.”
As was predictable, Viganò has received criticism from within the hierarchy. He has been accused of deeply wounding the Church, purposely lying, harboring personal animosity toward Francis, being anti-gay, seeking his own aggrandizement, and simply having his facts wrong. Let’s sort these accusations out. The first is ridiculous—reporting a moral or legal offense cannot be more grievous than the offense itself. The next four are fallacious—the truth or falsity of a statement is independent of the motive of the person who makes it.
The final accusation, however, is relevant. Those who make it say it is not clear whether Pope Benedict ever sanctioned McCarrick. As I write, neither Benedict himself nor anyone close to him has addressed this question. However, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) reports being told by two sources present at a 2008 meeting between McCarrick and Papal Nuncio Pietro Sambi “that the nuncio instructed McCarrick to leave the seminary at that time.” According to those sources, “Sambi [also] told McCarrick his departure was the direct instruction of Pope Benedict XVI.”
If CNA’s sources prove credible, then Francis did ignore or overrule Benedict’s sanction and did enable McCarrick.
But what if Benedict’s cannot be confirmed? In that case, Francis cannot be fairly charged with violating it. But It might mean that BOTH Benedict AND Francis followed the pattern of behavior common among in the Church and ignored the facts about McCarrick that were widely enough rumored to reach Rome. By any reasonable measure, that would constitute, at very least, unconscious enabling of sex-abuse by both Popes.
So what is the solution? More specifically, what can the laity do now that they know the hierarchy have been too busy protecting abusers to hear the cries of the abused?
They might dream of Jesus returning and speaking to the hierarchy much as he did the money-changers in Matthew 21:12-13—“‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of perversion.’” But such dreaming, however satisfying, is hardly a solution.
Or they might simply leave the Catholic Church and find a place of worship more respectful of Christ and His Gospel. Many have done this already and many others are now sorely tempted to follow their example. That temptation is perfectly understandable. After all, the Catholic Church has long taught, and still officially teaches, that “outside the Church there is no salvation,” even while clerical behavior has made the world wonder whether there is salvation inside the Church. Older Catholics are also deeply disillusioned (if not enraged) to learn that sodomy was being tolerated among priests at the very time married couples were being warned that birth control was forbidden under pain of mortal sin! Yet leaving the Church means giving up the sacraments, and that cannot be the solution for those who love Christ.
Another solution is to stop giving money to the Church for as long as it takes for the hierarchy to heed the counsel of truth and morality: that is, to go beyond professions of personal and institutional sorrow for past failures and take forceful and meaningful action against the clerical sins of sexual abuse and enabling. In response to this suggestion, of course, the hierarchy will preach that it is wrong for the laity to withhold financial contributions—they will cite scriptures demanding support of the hungry, thirsty, naked, and abandoned, and list the Church’s ongoing achievements in those efforts. But the Church has been reluctant to acknowledge how much money has been diverted from the poor to pay for the sins of pedophiles. (Where numbers have been published, investigative reporters, not prelates, have published them. One such number, a huge but only partial one, was mentioned in Part 1—$1.269 billion.)
The clerical argument against the laity withholding financial support can be answered in two ways. First, just as it is immoral for bishops to enable the sin/crime of sexual abuse, so it is wrong for the laity to enable the sin/crime by, in effect, financing it; withholding support is therefore a way of avoiding complicity in sin. Secondly, the Gospel message to care for the poor and those in need can be met in other ways than by donating to the Church. CharityNavigator.org rates over 9,000 charities, including these highly rated ones: Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Ships, Doctors Without Borders, and Habitat for Humanity. A donation to any of these or innumerable others, such as Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity, will both fulfill one’s obligation and ensure that the money goes to the needy.
I began this essay by noting that, at this difficult time, I take consolation from the fact that at its core my Catholic faith is not about consecrated men with impressive titles who make “magisterial” pronouncements, but about the One who loved us enough to suffer and die for our salvation. I will end it by noting my conviction that the Holy Spirit shares our revulsion at the abusers and the enablers and will guide us in the needed reformation of the Church.
Copyright © 2018 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved