By Yvonne Sam
Social and Political Columnist
Just when the world was beginning to think that sex scandals were reserved for only a certain section of our raunchy society, suddenly and without warning, comes the most damning accusation in living memory, ever made against a pontiff. The Roman Catholic Church is now being rocked by allegations of wrongdoings that go all the way to the Vatican, even to the Pope himself.
On the final day of the Pope’s visit to Dublin, Ireland, where he convened the World Meeting of Families, a huge triennial assembly of Catholics to celebrate “joy for the world”, a former top Vatican diplomat dropped a bombshell.
The bombshell is an 11-page report, written by Carlo Maria Vigano, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States from 2011-2016, who claimed that the Vatican bureaucracy was duplicitous in covering up accusations that seminarians were sexually abused by Cardinal Theodore Mc Garrick, and that Pope Francis was privy to such abuses years before they became public.
The letter further contends that not only did Pope Francis not punish the Cardinal, but also lifted penalties, imposed on him by Pope Benedict XV1, who had ordered him to withdraw to a life of penance and prayer, for his part, in the corruption of generations of priests and seminarians.
After succeeding Pope Benedict, Francis “rehabilitated” McCarrick and elevated him to a trusted adviser, a senior position that entitled him to assist in the choosing of powerful American bishops.
Vigano claims that Pope Francis was aware that Cardinal Mc Garrick was a serial predator and worked to “rehabilitate” him, rather than remove him from his high-profile, senior position. In church circles Carrick’s proclivities were an open secret.
Pope Francis has, since the assumption of his papacy in 2013, advocated a liberal interpretation of Catholic teachings, at a time when there has been a shift in Western politics.
On direct questioning as to whether he was aware of, and covered up, the multitudinous allegations of sexual misconduct brought against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and whether he continued to promote the recently-disgraced cardinal within the church hierarchy, the Pope did not deny the allegations, but sidestepped the questions, by insisting he would not dignify them with a response.
“Now that the pope has been directly accused of a cover up, it is obligatory that he responds in order to dispel suspicions. The uncertainty over the truth is itself damaging to the pope, observers said.”
Pope Francis has been at the forefront of significant criticism, not only from conservative clergy, like Carlo Vigano, but also from progressives in the Church, who claim that he has not taken serious steps to address the deep-seated and recurring wounds of sex abuse. Some Catholic leaders are concerned that the pope’s letter and the Church itself, show a demonstrable lack of specific recommendations for preventing this from happening again.
New, concrete steps are now vitally necessary to reform the Church, an institution with an embedded culture of secrecy that would not demolish itself. In fact, some of the loudest critics have been sex abuse victims themselves, who have been severely hurt by the Pope’s past dismissals of clergy abuse. The pope drew international outrage by saying that abuse victims, who had accused a Chilean Bishop, Juan Barros, of covering up sex abuse, were guilty of calumny.
Francis said that until he sees evidence that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, such accusations against Barros, are “all calumny.”
Despite the fact that in several countries steps have been taken to educate the clergy and institute safety procedures, these have been implemented, unevenly, and the past several weeks have made it evident that the legacy of abuse remains raw.
There are still some Catholics, who argue that measures in place are not enough. For many years, the Catholic Church have got things licked Catholic style—the Church rather than report the crime to law enforcement authorities, instead handled sex abuse allegations, internally, by moving accused priests to different dioceses, or had them secretly treated at mental health clinics.
Concomitantly, groups have disputed, regarding the direction the Catholic Church has gone under Pope Francis, with conservatives cautioning that his pastoral and inclusive approach and accentuation on social issues, watered down church doctrine and pose a mortal threat to the future of the faith. www.nytimes.com/2018/08/26/world/europe/pope-ireland-sexual-abuse-letter-vigano.html.
The readiness of the pope and his supporters to reach out to gay Catholics has angered Conservatives, many of whom, including Cardinal Vigano, blame homosexuals for the sex abuse crisis. On the other hand the pope has contended that the abuse is a symptom of a culture of privilege and imperviousness among priests, who value the church’s traditions over its parishioners. www.nationalreview.com/2018/08/catholic-sex-abuse-scandals-should-matter-to-protestants/
Can the Pope really cope? Is this all within his scope? Regardless of what Pope Francis does now, the Catholic Church finds itself in a civil war. There are the traditionalists who assert that sexual abuse can be stopped only by stricter and secure obedience to church doctrine. The liberals, on the other hand, insist that the church discontinue condemning homosexual acts and permit gay priests to come out of the closet.
Now that the pope has been directly accused of a cover up, it is obligatory that he responds in order to dispel suspicions.
The uncertainty over the truth is itself damaging to the pope, observers said. Until now, Catholics around the world have looked to the Vatican for guidance and support in stopping and punishing clerical sex abuse. Now that the pope, himself, is accused of complicity in a cover-up, he must dispel suspicions or risk tainting his efforts at reform across the church, some said.
Pope Francis’ record on the church’s sex-abuse crisis has long been criticized as inadequate by activists, and popular attitudes have reflected such disappointment.
Since a pope wields influence in the church and wider society primarily through exhortation and example, a loss of moral authority would cripple his ability to preach or lobby on a host of other issues, from abortion to immigration.
“The pope’s refusal to confirm or deny these accusations runs the risk of creating greater doubt and confusion,” said the Rev. John Paul Wauck, a professor at Rome’s Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. “People could be left lingering in a limbo of uncertainty.”
Sexual scandals invariably ignite battles over sexual morality, and there are always factions who are ready to eradicate scandal by essentially erasing the existence of the sin. Is there homosexual activity in the priesthood? Then, some would argue, the real “problem” is the existence of doctrine, condemning such activity, not the activity itself.
Despite their opposing views, the two sides have important things in common. Both believe that a culture of lies has enabled predators to flourish. And both trace this culture back to the church’s hypocritical practice of claiming that homosexual acts are wrong, while quietly tolerating them among the clergy.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.