During the press conference for the Vatican Summit on Sex Abuse, early Monday, Cardinal Blase Cupich was asked by CNN’s Delia Gallagher to address whether “part of the problem is that priests, bishops and Cardinals are, themselves, engaged in illicit sexual behavior and therefore unwilling to denounce each other.” Cardinal Cupich, who was hand-chosen by Pope Francis to lead the summit, responded. “You are right in saying this is a hypothesis — and a hypothesis has to be proven … and I think that is something that has to remain at that level — as a hypothesis.” The pope, in turn, went off script and off the cuff yesterday — once more intimating that those who are critical of him or of his bishops are critical “of the Church,” and were “the friends, cousins and relatives of the Great Accuser — the devil.” This follows the trend of the pope speaking “off the cuff,” especially when high-ranking prelates — such as Archbishop Viganò — openly oppose or correct him on error or the negligence and cover-up of the latest sex abuse scandals. This time, however, it seems to have been a response to the many members of the public, along with Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller, reacting in disbelief and outrage to what appears to be continued trends of apathy by members of the Catholic hierarchy, including Pope Francis.
Only a few weeks earlier, during an in-flight press conference, Pope Francis was asked to comment on the crisis rocking the Catholic Church. The pope first expressed annoyance at the question before downplaying expectations of the summit’s applicable resolutions. “I permit myself to say that I’ve perceived a bit of an inflated expectation. We need to deflate the expectations to these points that I’m saying, because the problem of abuse will continue. It’s a human problem, but human everywhere.”
Responding to these, and other comments made by the pope during his press conference, I sat down with Ms. Siobhan O’Connor, known for her role as whistleblower in the ongoing investigations in the diocese of Buffalo, N.Y. Her reactions, as one personally and professionally impacted by the ongoing scandals, were grave and filled with pain. “Certainly we need to have realistic expectations for what a three-day meeting can accomplish with regard to a longstanding, far-reaching crisis,” she said. “But the fact that people — especially Catholics — have such high expectations means that they are invested in the Church and desperately want her to begin climbing out of this well of scandal. We need to have high expectations because the stakes are so high.”
In response to the notion that sexual deviancy will continue, as it is a common “human problem,” Ms. O’Connor said, “It sounds like [the pope has] given up before he even begins in earnest. It’s as though he were saying, ‘We’ll do what we can, but this is always going to be an issue.’ No. This cannot be the Catholic response.” She continued, “The ‘problem of abuse’ became chronic in the Church because it was not properly addressed and rooted out. Think of all the credibly accused priests who are still receiving diocesan funding and have never been held accountable for their crimes either civilly or canonically. Think of all the bishops and chancery officials who knew of these abuses and were or are complicit in the cover-up. These are ‘problems of abuse’ that the Church absolutely must address and alleviate now and avoid in the future. By casting this as a “human problem,” Pope Francis appears to be lessening the Church’s responsibility to handle it. This is not simply a matter of concupiscence. We are dealing with crimes, complicit clergy, and cover-ups. The Church must address these ‘problems of abuse’ directly and definitively. Nothing else will suffice. “
Expressing “disbelief” that some bishops remain unaware of the abuse crisis, as seemed to be emphasized by the pope during his three-part answer to the press, Ms. O’Connor continued, “The pope says that ‘some bishops did not understand well’ and need to ‘become aware of what is an abused boy, abused girl.’ This is both confusing and disheartening. What don’t some bishops understand? The nature of the abuse? Its symptoms?”
When asked if “establishing protocols” would have stopped Theodore McCarrick (whose laicization was confirmed by the Vatican last Friday)’s alleged homosexual grooming and abuse of young men and seminarians, O’Connor answered, “No, I do not believe that any number of protocols would have stopped McCarrick’s alleged crimes. We know now that he was a predator capable of incredible deceit and diabolical manipulation. Almost certainly he would not have let protocols stop him.” Continuing, Ms. O’Connor noted, “The Church is not suffering from a dearth of protocols. It is suffering from a lack of supernatural faith, personal holiness and faith-filled courage. By all accounts, McCarrick is a sick man — a sexual predator — and yet he continued to minister publicly and powerfully for decades! We’ve learned that many within the Church were aware of the allegations and rumors against him. How could they permit his behavior to continue? How could they let this abuse perpetuate and destroy lives and vocations? What kind of protocols would have helped?
“In fact,” she continued, “I can’t imagine this topic being addressed at all, this week — if this summit seems more focused on establishing basic ‘awareness’ than addressing uncomfortable realities. We know that there are many disordered actions for which certain members of the clergy must be held accountable. Given the tenor of the pope’s airborne remarks, I don’t imagine these disordered actions will be under discussion. It’s much easier to talk about ‘clericalism’ as though the Church has the flu. But the Church has cancer.”
Appealing once again to the pope and members of the hierarchy involved in this week’s summit, Ms. O’Connor pleaded, “You have spoken of deflated expectations, but it is our hearts and souls that are most deflated. Please do not allow this summit to be one of awareness, protocols, and P.R. sound bites. It must be a time of action, accountability and atonement. Nothing else is acceptable.”
1. Siobhan, in his press conference onboard his plane, the Pope was asked about the topic of the Sex Abuse crisis, and the February “Summit.” In fact, the journalist went so far as to ask what his hopes were for the “meeting in February, so that the church can begin to rebuild trust between the faithful and their bishops?”
Did Pope Francis’ three-part answer give you confidence that the “Summit” will address the concerns you have expressed?
In a word, no.
First of all, it is outrageous to think that these Church leaders need a “catechesis” of any kind in order to become aware of the nature and scope of this tragedy. Yet Pope Francis was so specific about it that you can’t chalk this up to jet lag. I will say that it was encouraging to hear that Pope Francis regularly receives survivors of abuse and recognizes the depth of their suffering. But then he proceeds to state that bishops need to “become aware of this.” What?! It is beyond disheartening to think that Pope Francis has such little confidence in his bishops’ ability to comprehend let alone address this crisis.
The second part of the Pope’s response was rather confusing. For instance, he talks about “the procedure” and notes that “it… has grown very strong and has not arrived at all angles.” What does that actually mean? There is only one “angle” we need to consider: God’s children have been abused and violated at the hands of men consecrated to His service while the leaders of His Church looked away, kept silent or covered up. With all due respect, there is no other “angle.” Then the Pope says “let them make general programs” as long as “protocols are clear.” If that’s the case, why couldn’t our United States bishops create their general programs with clear protocols back in November? What “angle” did our bishops need to take in order to accomplish their goals at that USCCB assembly? This response left me with more questions than answers.
As for the last point, it is certainly crucial that this summit meeting would include prayer. I was greatly relieved to read that the gathering will also include testimonies as part of the effort to “build awareness.” I had been worried that the voices of survivors would have no say in this meeting. Prayer and testimony from victims is a welcome part of the summit’s schedule. A penitential liturgy seeking forgiveness is also a very fitting and important element.
2. Late last year, during the USCCB meeting in Baltimore, the Vatican engaged and directed that no vote to address the current crisis be done. In his answer, the Pope made it clear that “protocols” would be discussed — that this would be the “main thing” addressed in the Summit, even expressing that “we need to deflate the expectations” in regards to actions from this “Summit.” What does this mean to you?
It was extremely discouraging to read that the Pope is actively seeking to “deflate expectations” regarding the Summit. Certainly we need to have realistic expectations for what a 3-day meeting can accomplish with regard to a longstanding, far-reaching crisis. But the fact that people — especially Catholics — have such high expectations is actually a positive reality. It means that they are invested in the Church and desperately want Her to begin climbing out of this well of scandal. This is our beloved Church! We want Her to rise from the ashes of scandal, crime and cover-up. We need to have high expectations because the stakes are so high.
The Pope’s words about protocols were extremely discouraging. When he talks about what bishops, archbishops, etc. “must do,” it made me cringe. They should not need a juridical, procedural manual to do what is right. Here’s what they “must do”:
Address allegations with alacrity and report them to civil authorities directly
Tell the truth — all the time, every time
Care for survivors as though they were family members or their very selves
Rid their Chanceries and advisory bodies of complicit clergy and/or lay people
Ensure the safety of their seminarians
Lead the renewal of their dioceses with humility and holiness
Turn to Jesus for grace, guidance and strength
Basically, they need to do their jobs with fortitude and faith.
3. Siobhan, the Pope — in his comments to the press — seemed to stress that the bishops were just not aware that abuse is taking place, and that somehow this revelation would be established at the “Summit.” He then, went on to say that prayer and a “penitential liturgy to ask forgiveness for the whole Church” would take place. What is your reaction to this notion of ignorance?
Utter disbelief. It belies belief that any bishop be unaware of the abuse that has taken place and the cover-up thereof. A simple Google search would cure them of this supposed ignorance post haste. Even in dioceses without Internet access, it would seem that a scandal of this magnitude would at least be known if not discussed. If the bishops need a summit to enlighten them about this global abuse scandal, the Church is in even worse shape than I could have fathomed.
The Pope says that “some bishops did not understand well” and need to “become aware of what is an abused boy, abused girl.” This is both confusing and disheartening. What don’t some bishops understand? “This problem?” The nature of the abuse? Its symptoms? The only way to “become aware of what is an abused boy or girl” is to meet them all grown up. Bishops need to meet with survivors so as to listen to and learn from them while offering ongoing support and sincere apologies. Pope Francis states that he receives survivors regularly and I sincerely commend and thank him for doing so. But if his bishops are not following suit, that’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
4. We spoke about the Dallas Charter in our last interview. Do you believe the Pope’s answer, in reference to “protocols,” reflects similar rhetoric and do you think establishing “more protocols” will address the root issues of, especially, predatory homosexual grooming and abuse? What “protocols” do you think would have stopped Archbishop McCarrick’s alleged homosexual grooming and abuse of young men and seminarians?
No, I do not believe that any number of protocols would have stopped Archbishop McCarrick’s alleged crimes. Based on what we know now, he was a predator capable of incredible deceit and diabolical manipulation. Almost certainly he would not have let protocols stop him. Besides, there are already protocols in place! They are called the Ten Commandments. Additional protocols can be found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us more than enough protocols in the Beatitudes and the teachings He enunciated throughout His public ministry. We lay people are expected to live by these protocols and must challenge ourselves to do so faithfully. We cannot accept anything less from our clergy.
The Church is not suffering from a dearth of protocols. It is suffering from a lack of personal holiness and faith-filled courage. By all accounts, Archbishop McCarrick is a sick man. Yet he continued to minister publicly and powerfully for decades! Despite apparently lacking some of the basics of personal holiness, he was promoted multiple times. We’ve learned that many within the Church were aware of the allegations and rumors against him. How could they permit his behavior to continue? How could they let this abuse perpetuate and destroy lives and vocations? What kind of protocols would have helped? “Be brave and true and good and holy?” Must we actually parse, publish and promote such a protocol? It beggars belief that such juridical action would be necessary. Be brave and true and good and holy. Strive to be like Jesus in all things.
5. Siobhan, what was your reaction to the Pope’s comment that “the problem of abuse will continue. It’s a human problem, but human everywhere.”
This was one of the hardest parts for me to read. It sounds like he’s given up before he even begins in earnest. It’s as though he were saying, “We’ll do what we can, but this is always going to be an issue.” No. This cannot be the Catholic response.
Will there always be sick people who try to hurt or take advantage of others? Tragically, the answer is yes. Our human condition is such that we can soar to the heights of holiness or sink to the depths of depravity. We can acknowledge this reality without accepting “the problem of abuse” as unavoidable. Besides, Pope Francis and our Church leaders are tasked with handling a specific dilemma: the “problem of abuse” within the Catholic Church. Yes, abuse is a “human problem.” But this problem exists within our Church to such an extent that it is essentially defining our Church right now. This specific problem cannot be considered inevitable, as the Pope’s words seem to suggest.
The “problem of abuse” became chronic in the Church because it was not addressed and rooted out. Think of all the credibly accused priests who are still receiving diocesan funding and have never been held accountable for their crimes either civilly or canonically. Think of all the bishops and Chancery officials who knew of these abuses and were/are complicit in the cover-up. Think of all the victims who have been re-traumatized by how the Church responded to their plight. These are “problems of abuse” that the Church absolutely must address and alleviate now and avoid in the future. By casting this as a “human problem,” Pope Francis appears to be lessening the Church’s responsibility to handle it. This is not simply a matter of concupiscence. We are dealing with crimes, complicit clergy, and cover-ups. The Church must address these “problems of abuse” directly and definitively. Nothing else will suffice.
6. The Pope and his “Council of Nine” — including a few Cardinals (such as ++Maradiaga) embroiled in sex abuse scandals, themselves — have often pushed the notion that the reason for sexual abuse and cover-up in the Church stems from “clericalism.” Having read his comments, today, do you believe that overwhelming evidence from the John Jay report’s revelations, along with AG reports — that there is clear homosexual grooming of young boys and vulnerable men — will be addressed in February?
I can’t imagine that it would be especially if this summit seems more focused on establishing basic awareness than addressing uncomfortable realities. Clericalism has become such a buzzword that it’s lost most of its impact and much of its meaning. I would define it as a disordered attitude regarding the clergy highlighted by the laity’s automatic deference towards them and their own feelings of superiority. Clericalism may be a disordered attitude, but we know that there are many disordered actions for which the clergy must be held accountable. The homosexual grooming of young boys and vulnerable men is despicable as is the grooming and abuse committed by heterosexual clergy. Actions such as these are contrary to God’s law, natural law and civil law. However, given the tenor of the Pope’s airborne remarks, I don’t imagine these disordered actions will be under discussion. It’s much easier to talk about clericalism as though the Church has the flu. But the Church has cancer. We don’t need chicken soup for the soul. We need the spiritual equivalent of chemotherapy.
7. Siobhan, there has been talk that the Vatican is now engaged with downplaying the abuse of a 16yr old boy, by former Cardinal McCarrick, as having been “consensual.” This seems to correspond with comments from certain bishops and Cardinals that American outrage is simply Anglo-Saxon prudery in sexual matters. Meanwhile, Archbishop McCarrick remains a priest and free, and living in retirement in a Franciscan Friary in Kansas.
Do you believe the outrage regarding predatory sexual contact by Priests, whose lives are expected to be celibate, is simply naive American prudishness?
Do you believe the trail of nearly 60-years of majority-homosexual predatory grooming, abuse and cover-up is limited to America (and some Western-European countries)?
What would you like to see happen to priests, bishops and Cardinals who have engaged in sex abuse, and sex abuse cover-up?
No, I do not believe our outrage is “naïve American prudishness.” Pope Francis should watch some American television or movies if he suffers under the delusion of our prudishness! We are absolutely justified in our outrage. In fact, that outrage gives me hope for our Church. If we weren’t outraged, it would be a cause for great despair. Human beings do not become outraged over matters for which they care little. The intensity of our outrage speaks to magnitude of this scandal and the depth of our faith in Christ and our love for his Church.
We are demanding no more of our clergy than what they promise at Ordination: celibacy for the sake of the kingdom. We are not prudes to be scandalized by the lack of celibacy and amount of abuse that has been uncovered within our country’s dioceses. Sadly, I do not believe such abuse and cover-up is limited to America and Western-European countries. This is likely the first great wave of a tsunami.
As for what should happen to priests, bishops and cardinals who have engaged in the activity you describe? They certainly shouldn’t remain carefree priests in Kansas friaries! At the very least, they should be sentenced to a restricted life of prayer and penance. This is for the good of their souls more than anything! I would argue that the majority of abusive clergy should be laicized. Many of them should go to jail. If jail is not an option due to legal restrictions, they should be identified as sex offenders and receive all of the attendant restrictions of such a designation. Clergy who covered up these crimes should likewise be held accountable. If they can be civilly charged, they absolutely should be. Then they too should be sentenced to a life of prayer and penance with no possibility for promotion or privilege. Again, this is as much for the sake of their souls as it is for justice. So much abuse has been committed. So much of it has been covered up. It will take a tremendous amount of prayer and penance to atone for these sins and crimes. It behooves us, the laity, to voluntarily join in this prayer and penance for the sake of our suffering Church.
8. Do you have another message to ++DiNardo or Pope Francis?
Cardinal DiNardo: From all eternity, God knew that you would be the President of the USCCB at this distinct moment in history. He has given you an immense responsibility, but He has also given you the ability to rise to the occasion. The stakes have never been higher in our modern era, but God’s grace abounds all the more.
Pope Francis: You have spoken of deflated expectations, but it is our hearts and souls that are most deflated. Please do not allow this summit to be one of awareness, protocols and PR sound bites. It must be a time of action, accountability and atonement. Nothing else is acceptable. Prayer, penitential liturgies and survivors’ testimonies are a good start, but there must be more accomplished in response to this global crisis. You must be the most prayed-for man in the world with all of the prayers offered for you at Mass, during rosaries and through various other means! May you feel the effects of these prayers and the strength of God’s presence.
To all attending the Summit: I wish to share with you the words G. K. Chesterton used to describe Saint Thomas More: “He was above all things historic; he represented at once a type, a turning point and an ultimate destiny. If there had not happened to be that particular man at the particular moment, the whole of history would have been different.”
You are the particular men at this particular moment! Our Church is surely at a turning point. We all face the same ultimate destiny: eternal judgment from a merciful yet just God. How will you answer Him on your judgment day? What will you say when He asks you about your response at this turning point for His Church?
We desperately need you to be heroic men of faith. A daunting task is before you, but God is with you. Turn to Him. Rely on Him. Trust in Him.
Your people will be praying and fasting for you.
Image courtesy of 60 Minutes.
Bree A. Dail holds a Masters of Diplomacy, focusing on Conflict Management from Norwich University and a Bachelor of Arts from Christendom College. She is a veteran Naval Surface Warfare Officer, and has published various academic and AP articles on Military Affairs and Policy. She currently works as Consultant for a major Defense Contractor, and is the International/National Coordinator for Rosary Coast to Coast and the Holy League of Nations.