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The Viganò letter: first read

Viganò must be taken with a large grain of salt – it becomes clear he is ideologically driven and fixated on homosexuality – which is not the core issue here, though it has its place.

He also gets a few facts wrong, to support this ideology. For example, he claims 80% of abuse is of a homosexual nature. This is untrue. If you look at the most comprehensive study to date, and at the people doing the abuse the breakdown is this: 45% homosexual abuse of teens or vulnerable adults, 33% heterosexual abuse of teens or vulnerable adults, 22% pedophile abuse of children.{1}

His tone develops from factual and well-reasoned to one of taking advantage of the crisis to smear names that don’t deserve it (e.g., Cupich is “ostensibly arrogant”?? Francis had a ‘deceitful way’?? BS). Some of the cardinals he seems to list for no other reason than that they were appointed by Francis, and Francis he imposes sneering and snide comments on without justification.

He was unhappy with his job placement, and has a mixed record. He has personally tried to quash an investigation into a bishop who facilitated and covered up abuse, that whole Kim Davis meets the pope debacle, and a number of other moments. (Which alone does not mean we should dismiss everything he has to say, but acknowledge that it is not at all an objective or proven claim).

When asked to provide proof for his claims, he responded with “silence and prayer.”

But if you can keep all that in mind, that he names names and shares what he knows (even if it is tainted by his bias) is nearly a good example. The dirty laundry must be aired in order to be cleaned. But it would have been better had he stuck to facts rather than gossip, innuendo, and whining.

It becomes clear at least, from this and other sources, that:

a) John Paul II so utterly failed in this issue, and/or was sufficiently incompetent to serve in his office, by 2000, that he is basically a non-factor – but not in an excusable way. The worst of the abuse and the cover up happened on his watch – and one could easily suspect that the reason his canonization was rushed was to avoid this all coming to light before that happened;

b) Benedict may or may not have acted regarding McCarrick, but if he did, he did so secretly and late, and this is the crux of the problem. What good are ‘sanctions’ if no one knows about them? Benedict’s record on abusive priests was good as pope, but with regard to bishops and cardinals he did nothing. Another fail.

c) Francis is loyal to his friends to a fault, and just telling him about someone (Barros, McCarrick) is not enough, without evidence or clear first-hand testimony. This too is a failure.

d) Viganò’s ire seems motivated by other reasons. As a schemer, he sees scheming behind everything, even if it isn’t there. His wholesale attack on Francis and everyone connected to him is not justified by the facts he presents earlier, but there are some legitimate questions raised. The pope resigning is not one of them.

e) There is a whole list of curial cardinals and other bishops who ought to go. Just maybe not the whole list Vigano complains about, since some of his assertions are little more than gossip and retribution, the rest are documented and valid. It would be better had he not mixed the two.

He names a dozen people who should have known, by virtue of their office, of these sanctions – none of whom have confirmed Viganò’s account.

Some appear serious and well-founded: Bertone, Bootkoski, Myers, Sambi, Sodano, Wuerl.

Most seem just to be speculation at best, and ideological mudslinging at worst. These probably should have been left out entirely, if he wanted to be taken as a straight shooter: Coccopalmerio, Paglia, O’Brien, Martino, Farrell, O’Malley, Cupich, Tobin, Martin.

To that end, yes, there should be an investigation into the McCarrick affair, into the US bishops broadly, and into Viganò.

It is after all the pope – as well as the People of God – who have been asking for honesty, transparency, and reform. This kind of ideologically driven rant does not help, but it does not mean that there is not something worth including in an investigation here.


Popes and abuser-cardinals

August is normally a quiet month in Rome.

A month ago today, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Theodore McCarrick, 88, from the college of cardinals. And that was merely the beginning.

This was a first: No pope – none – has removed a cardinal for reasons related to the sex abuse scandal in recent memory, if ever. Compare Francis’ two immediate predecessors:

When it became known in 2013 that Cardinal Keith O’Brien (Scotland) was found, like McCarrick, to have engaged throughout the 1980s-90s in the abuse of power, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault of adults under his authority, Pope Benedict (who would announce his retirement a few days later) finally accepted his retirement as archbishop, and allowed him to go on retreat for a period of “spiritual renewal, prayer and penance”. Ostensibly on his own volition, O’Brien choose not to participate in the conclave the following month, but there is no indication that there were any sanctions imposed on him as a cardinal by Benedict.

Only after Francis was elected was a visitation and investigation initiated – again, something unprecedented – and when the results of the investigation landed on Francis’ desk, O’Brien was he relieved of the “rights and duties” of a cardinal, though he still remained a cardinal, entitled to dress and be addressed as such. It was a bizarre half measure, some attest to Benedict’s intercession.

When Cardinal Bernard Law was found to have covered-up sexual abuse by priests in Boston for years, and his resignation from that post eventually accepted, Pope John Paul II gave him an honorary post as cardinal-archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and allowed him all the rights and duties of cardinal, with a great deal of influence in the Roman curia for several years to come. Benedict did not change this, allowing him to continue unabated until retiring at the age of 80 from these roles.

We can only imagine how many other cases there have been without any public action on the part of popes at all.

Now comes this letter of former nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Viganò, claiming, among many other things, that Pope Benedict had in fact placed McCarrick on some kind of (double secret) suspension, but that Pope Francis had allowed McCarrick freedom again, and for this reason he should resign. (More on that later).

Pope emeritus Benedict has not, as of this writing, said anything about them, nor has Pietro Sambi, who was apparently responsible for communicating them to McCarrick. Pope Francis apparently trusts our ability to read critically enough to see Viganò’s letter for what it is, and no more.

Viganò claims that “the Cardinal was to leave the seminary where he was living, he was forbidden to celebrate [Mass] in public, to participate in public meetings, to give lectures, to travel,with the obligation of dedicating himself to a life of prayer and penance.” 

It seems unlikely that there were any such restrictions, except perhaps the request to move out of the seminary.

First, if such sanction existed, the failure to make them public would be a grave scandal in itself. “Secret” laws are no law at all, and one of the issues at the heart of this ongoing scandal is the lack of transparency. In which case, yes a pope would be morally at fault for failing to act appropriately, and for covering up knowledge of an abuser. But that pope would be Benedict, not Francis.

It does not stretch the imagination much to think that the old guard would have thought this an acceptable solution: McCarrick was elderly, no longer a threat, and already retired both as archbishop and on curial dicasteries. Let him meet his maker without another public scandal. Very Romanità. Very much the kind of thing Francis has decried since the beginning.

Even if this were the way it played out, wrong though it might be, that would not be reason enough for Benedict to resign (though he eventually did). It would be reason to confess his error, correct it, and never do it again. It certainly is not a reason for Francis to resign.

But Ockham’s Razor suggests that most likely, there never were any formal sanctions. Certainly, both Pope Benedict and Viganò “violated” these sanctions if there were, concelebrating mass with McCarrick, being at public events with him, and saying and doing nothing about it. 

What is more likely is simply that McCarrick was told to sell his beach house and stop spending summer vacations there with seminarians (done in 2000) and then, in retirement, not to reside in the seminary. Which he did. And that’s about it, as far as ‘sanctions’ seem to have gone, until Pope Francis acted.

The culture of secrecy that pervaded the Church up to and including the papacy of John Paul II, only slowly began to crumble under Benedict XVI, and finally being torn away by Francis, is part of the clericalism that allowed this filth to spread thoroughly through the House of God.

As with any serious housecleaning, things get messier before they get organized, the dirt becomes more visible –  but you don’t blame the cleaner! As with anyone shining the light of Truth into dark corners, those who prefer the darkness will do anything to put out the light.


And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

Chancellor and Parent: Common sense on the abuse crisis

In 2002, Chancellor David Spotanski of the Belleville diocese delivered a 10-page memo to his bishop, Wilton Gregory. In the last week, he decided to publish the memo after years of sharing it privately with friends and colleagues, and was interviewed by BustedHalo‘s Bill McGarvey. The canonist is a lay ecclesial minsiter and a father of three. (Mr. McGarvey finds this “a little unusual” even though 25% of U.S. dioceses currently have a lay chancellor, and there is nothing about the position that requires, or even recommends, a cleric in the office – but that is an aside!)

Some worthy highlights of the interview:

“It is important on occasion to remind ourselves that the only affiliation that’s required to speak up in this church is baptism. From that moment forward we are full-fledged members with a God-given right and a God-driven obligation to help fix what’s wrong in our church and in the world.”

“If there’s any lesson we in the church should have learned by now, but still seem to struggle with,” Spotanski said, “it’s that disclosure is always better than discovery.” (Emphases original.)

“I was asked recently what advice I’d give the bishops today, and these three things came to mind immediately:

  • We have to stop making rules without consequences.
  • We have to stop patting ourselves on the back for quickly enacting policies our people reasonably presumed had been in place for 2,000 years.
  • We have to stop comparing our crisis-driven responses to those of secular institutions for which we were all taught the Church would be our secure, God-given sanctuary when those worldly institutions inevitably failed us.

I would add to that a renewed sense of urgency. I closed my 2002 memorandum this way: “More than anything else, Christ’s Church should be about preserving and promoting innocence, not accelerating its ruin. Pardon the platitude, but it’s time we stopped protecting our past and did something to fortify our future.” We don’t have the luxury of “thinking in centuries” any longer, and we’re running out of second chances.”

Full interview available at; Thanks to Whispers in the Loggia for bringing it to my attention in the first place!

The memo can be read here. I strongly encourage you to take the time to read it, to remind yourself (as if you need it) of where we have been and how far we have yet to go.

Quote of the Day

First tip to Catholic News Service; full quote from John Allen, Jr.:

In terms of what we today can discover in this message, attacks against the pope or the church don’t come just from outside the church. The suffering of the church also comes from within the church, because sin exists in the church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way. The greatest persecution of the church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside, but is born in sin within the church. The church thus has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. Forgiveness does not exclude justice. We have to re-learn the essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues.

Pope Benedict XVI,
In-flight press conference en route to Portugal

Reform and Renewal for the Catholic Church in Ireland

Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin

By an accident of history, or some mysterious move of the Holy Spirit, it has happened that I was in graduate school in capital cities of the church when the Clerical Sex Abuse and Cover-up Scandals hit the press in the last decade. When the firestorm that started in Santa Rosa spread to Boston and the rest of the U.S., I was in Washington, D.C. at The Catholic University of America. This time around I am at the Angelicum in Rome as the Church in Europe begins to do public penance for the same sins.

There are some significant differences. Eight years ago, one cause of great suffering for people who loved the Church was the abject

failure of most of its leadership to respond with absolute clarity and contrition. In 2002, the Dallas Charter finally implemented norms simliar to those that Archbishop Hunthausen of Seattle had pioneered back in 1985 after the very first media scandal of sacerdotal sex abuse. But I have no recollection of any leading bishop standing up publicly and denouncing the evil committed by fellow bishops. If an effort was made to reprimand even the most grevious offenders, bishops who protected predator priests, it was done behind the “mafia-like code of silence” that was described in the U.S. Bishops’ own commissioned study of the scandal.

By contrast, when Ireland became the first country in a wave of European church scandals, Dublin’s Archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, did not hold back from publicly calling on fellow bishops to resign if they had been indicted or implicated by the state’s criminal investigation. He has not hesitated in stating simply that the Church had sined, in its highest levels of leadership, and that healing required real admission of guilt and an openness to change.

That seems to me all that most people want – a little honesty, and a clear sense that 1) the Church’s leadership recognizes the full extent of the problem, 2) the bishops are willing to take to task their own numbers as appropriate, and 3) all of this is absolutely transparent. It is not enough to protect us against the priest predators in the first place, which the U.S. Bishops’ Conference policies seem to have been doing admirably well, where implemented, but the final piece required is to hold accountable those who allowed this all to happen in the first place.

Today, Archbishop Martin wrote an extended letter that was published on the archdiocesan website, detailing his thoughts on the situation and his vision for renewal. It is honest and straightforward, and touches on a number of critical issues. If every bishop were so committed to living the Gospel with such humility and transparency, I think the millions who love Christ and his church, but have been hurt by their “shepherds” would begin to heal and return to the life of faith with a renewed spirit that the church has not seen in a long time.

Archbishop Martin admits he is disheartened and discouraged about the “level of willingness to really begin what is going to be a painful path of renewal and of what is involved in that renewal.” This makes him one of a small handful of bishops publicly in solidarity with most Catholics I know – whether lay or ordained, secular or ecclesiastical, traditional or progressive.

“ Why am I discouraged?  The most obvious reason is the drip-by-drip never-ending revelation about child sexual abuse and the disastrous way it was handled.   There are still strong forces which would prefer that the truth did not emerge.  The truth will make us free, even when that truth is uncomfortable.  There are signs of subconscious denial on the part of many about the extent of the abuse which occurred within the Church of Jesus Christ in Ireland and how it was covered up.  There are other signs of rejection of a sense of responsibility for what had happened.  There are worrying signs that despite solid regulations and norms these are not being followed with the rigour required.”

He acknowledges a deeper root, a contributing factor – people in Ireland have been catechized but not evangelized. Similar to the graduates of Catholic schools in the U.S. they know about the faith but do not live it. He laments the  growing division between parish and catholic school, and the failure of most parishes to engage young people, who he says more and more find the parish “alien territory”.

He discusses the church’s communications strategy, which critics had labeled as “catastrophic”, he responds,

“My answer is that what the Murphy report narrated was catastrophic and that the only honest reaction of the Church was to publicly admit that the manner in which that catastrophe was addressed was spectacularly wrong; spectacularly wrong  “full stop”; not spectacularly wrong, “but…”   You cannot sound-byte your way out of a catastrophe.”

How refreshing to hear, simply, “we were wrong.” Not, “we are under attack”, or “why are you picking on us, there are other abusers too!”, et al.

He engages the whining “defenses” of the Church offered by some and dismisses them easily. It does not matter if sexual abuse by priests is only a small percentage of abuse over all, or if the culture of the late 60’s was more sexually permissive, or if “experts” then did not share the view of experts now on the cause and potential cure of abuse. The Church has always known good from evil, and in too many cases failed to choose the good.

“The Church is different; the Church is a place where children should be the subject of special protection and care.  The Gospel presents children in a special light and reserves some of its most severe language for those who disregard or scandalise children in any way.”

Tied into the necessary renewal of the parishes, he speaks plainly about the need for the renewal of seminaries and priestly formation, unreservedly identifying clericalism as one of the root sins that must be eliminated if we are to move on from this crisis.

“Renewal of the Church requires participation and responsible participation.  I have spoken about the need for accountability regarding the scandal of sexual abuse.  I am struck by the level of disassociation by people from any sense of responsibility.  While people rightly question the concept of collective responsibility, this does not mean that one is not responsible for one’s personal share in the decisions of the collective structures to which one was part.

We need to take a radical new look at the formation of future priests.  I am working on plans to ensure that for the future in Dublin our seminarians, our prospective deacons and our trainee lay pastoral workers in the Archdiocese of Dublin will share some sections of their studies together, in order to create a better culture of collaborative ministry.  The narrow culture of clericalism has to be eliminated.  It did not come out of nowhere and so we have to address its roots in seminary training.   We also have to ensure that lay pastoral workers understand that all mission in the Church is calling and requires a self-understanding which is theological in essence.”

Despite his discouragement with the prophets of doom and despair, the protectors of pedophiles, and those still in denial about the true nature of these sins, he ends with a note of hope:

“The Catholic Church in Ireland, as I said, will have to find its place in a very different, much more secularised culture, at times even in a hostile culture.   It will have to find that place by being authentic and faithful to the person and the message of Jesus Christ.  The agenda for change in the Church must be one that comes from its message and not from pressure from outside and from people who do not have the true good of the Church at heart.  We all have reasons to be discouraged and to be angry.  There is a sense, however, in which true reform of the Church will spring only from those who love the Church, with a love like that of Jesus which is prepared also to suffer for the Church and to give oneself for the Church.”

The full text of the Archbishop’s letter can be read here.

Fighting Irish in Rome; Vatican Communications

Sacred Heart Basilica and Main Building at Notre Dame

The Notre Dame Alumni Club of Italy is not particularly large, there are only about 60 people on the mailing list, and most are clustered around Rome or Milan. We had our first club gathering that I was able to attend tonight at the Holy Cross generalate, an apartment building owned by the order in a residential neighborhood just a few bus stops from the west end of the metro A line. There were about a dozen of us, a few Holy Cross priests including the superior general, Fr. Hugh Cleary, a couple of fellow Angelicum students, a couple of curial staff , and a young couple teaching at the American International School of Rome.

Conversation ranged from the usual introductions and getting to know you chatter to the challenges of life in Rome and obtaining the fabled Permesso di soggiorno or even Italian citizenship or a driver license. Given the state of the Church these days, however, one of the interesting topics was the clergy sex abuse/cover up scandal, the Holy Father’s role in cleaning up the Church, and mostly, the Church’s communication challenges.

Much has improved in the last decade, on one hand. You need only compare the responses of the curial leadership to the crisis in Europe in the last few months with the responses to the crisis in America in 2002 to see that Pope Ratzinger has had a positive effect on dealing with the problem realistically, but there is still a lot of work to be done – not just in the substance of solutions, but even more in the Vatican’s communication’s organs and “getting the word out” of the good work already done.

Vatican Radio building

Few people realize just how disjointed the Holy See’s communications systems really are, though that has been made painfully clear with some of the well-intentioned but misguided attempts to “defend” the pope by some church leaders recently. There is no Vatican communication plan, no central organizing body. Each was set up in response to the development of a new media. Guttenburg comes along and we get the Vatican press; then Marconi and Vatican Radio; TV, a web page, etc, etc.

There is a Pontifical Council for Social Communications, but without the juridical authority of a Congregation, they can only make suggestions and maintain good working relations with the other communications apparatus’, which include:

  • Vatican Information Service
  • L’Osservatore Romano (The Vatican Newspaper)
  • The Vatican Publishing House
  • Sala Stampa della Santa Sede (The Vatican Press Office)
  • Centro Televisivo Vaticano (Vatican TV)
  • Radio Vaticana
  • The Holy See’s Web page

Not only are each of these separate, but most are in different buildings, some in several (Vatican Radio, for instance, has three different locations, I believe). Moreover, some have their own web-presence that does not go directly through the Vatican web page. Some dicasteries have their own information services and bulletins, from the Acta Apostolica Sedes to the PCPCU Information Service, which are not always available electronically or in translation.

It seems like the time is ripe for a major restructuring. It would not be easy, no doubt, and the directive has to come from the top, but there is no shortage of skilled lay people in the Church who could create a more effective communications strategy. In fact, they do not have to look further than the sons and daughters of Our Lady’s University to find a gold mine of resources right here in the Eternal City!

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