Politics in the Catholic Church

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Pope Francis and Theodore McCarrick

There is a battle raging for control of the Catholic Church.  Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s recent claim that Pope Francis covered-up Theodore McCarrick’s sexual indiscretions is the latest battle in a political holy war between conservative Catholics (supporters of Benedict XVI) and progressive Catholics (supporters of Pope Francis).  John Gehrig‘s recent piece at Religion & Politics lays it all out.  Here is a taste:

While the daily developments and details of Viganò’s claims should be thoroughly investigated no matter where they lead, there is no way to understand this saga without recognizing how the former ambassador’s claims are part of a coordinated effort to undermine the Francis papacy. The Viganò letter is as much about power politics in the church as it is about rooting out a culture of abuse and cover-up. A small but vocal group of conservative Catholic pundits, priests, and archbishops, including the former archbishop of St. Louis Cardinal Raymond Burke, have led what can be described without hyperbole as a resistance movement against their own Holy Father since his election five years ago. Pope Francis, the insurgents insist, is dangerously steering the church away from traditional orthodoxy on homosexuality, divorce, and family life because of his more inclusive tone toward LGBT people and efforts to find pastoral ways to approach divorced and remarried Catholics. These conservative critics, many of whom essentially labeled progressive Catholics heretics for not showing enough deference to Pope Benedict XVI, are not discreet in their efforts to rebuke Francis. Last year, in a letter to the pope from the former head of the doctrine office at the U.S. bishops’ conference in Washington, Fr. Thomas Weinandy accused the pope of “demeaning” the importance of doctrine, appointing bishops who “scandalize” the faithful, and creating “chronic confusion” in his teachings. “To teach with such an intentional lack of clarity, inevitably risks sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth,” the priest wrote in remarkably patronizing language more befitting a teacher correcting a student than a priest addressing the successor of Peter.

Viganò’s testimony therefore should not be read in isolation or as an aberration, but as the latest chapter in an ongoing campaign to weaken the credibility of Pope Francis. Political, cultural, and theological rifts among Catholics are nothing new in the church’s 2,000-year history, but Viganò’s call for the pope’s resignation has set off the ecclesial version of a street fight. “The current divisions among Catholics in the United States has no parallel in my lifetime,” Stephen Schneck, the former director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University of America, said in an interview. Bishops who usually take pains to show unity in public have issued dueling statements on Viganò’s letter that reflect this discord. Cardinal Tobin, who was appointed by Francis, sees Viganò’s accusations being used by the pope’s opponents to gain leverage. “I do think it’s about limiting the days of this pope, and short of that, neutering his voice or casting ambiguity around him,” the cardinal told The New York Times. Some conservatives in the hierarchy have cheered Viganò. Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, issued a statement just hours after the letter was made public and ordered priests in his diocese to read his statement during Mass. “As your shepherd, I find them credible,” the bishop wrote in response to Viganò’s allegations.

Read the entire piece here.

The Vatican is Preparing a Response to the Vigano Letter

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Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano has accused Pope Francis of covering up the sexual sins of former Washington D.C. archbishop Theodore McCarrick.  Thus far, Francis has dismissed the accusations.  But now it appears that the Vatican is forming some kind of a response to the Vigano testimony.  Gerard O’Connell of America explains:

The Council of Cardinal Advisors issued a statement on Sept. 10 expressing their “full solidarity with Pope Francis in the face of what has happened in these last weeks”—namely the attack against him by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former nuncio to the United States. They added that they were aware that the Holy See is preparing “the eventual and necessary clarifications” in response to the grave allegations Archbishop Viganò made in August.

Archbishop Viganò had accused the pope of covering up the abuses committed by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and of lifting the sanctions he believes Pope Benedict XVI imposed on the former Washington cardinal. He also accused many Vatican officials during the previous two pontificates of the same cover-up. The archbishop stunned the Catholic world by calling for Francis’ resignation.

The cardinal council members said in their statement that they were aware that “in the present discussion” the Holy See “is formulating the eventual and necessary clarifications” to these events. In this way, they confirmed the news that had circulated in the Italian media in recent days that the Vatican is preparing a response to what Archbishop Viganò stated in his letter, the contents of which has become a source of scandal and division in the church, particularly in the United States, and a direct attack on the pope and his moral authority.

Read the rest here.

The President of a Conservative Catholic College Defends the Pope and Takes the Heat

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Jim Towey is the president of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida.  He was also the Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under George W. Bush.

Ave Maria is a very traditional Catholic college.  It was founded in 1998 in Ypsilanti, Michigan by Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza.  I first learned about it through the ads the college regularly took out in First Things magazine.

In the wake of the controversial Cardinal Vigano letter accusing Pope Francis of covering-up the sexually abusive behavior of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one might expect the president of a conservative Catholic college to join the chorus of conservative Catholics who are critical of Francis.  But not Jim Towey.  I will let the Naples Daily News explain the rest:

Ave Maria University President Jim Towey’s statement in support of Pope Francis has prompted a swift backlash from several members of the Catholic community, including a group of nearly 70 alumni who signed an open letter asking he make a formal retraction. 

Towey has since amended his original statement and wrote a follow-up letter apologizing for some of his words, but he maintained his support of Pope Francis.

The pope stands accused of knowing of allegations of sexual abuse in the church and failing to take action.

In his Aug. 29 statement, Towey characterized the matter as a “rift between Pope Francis and some conservative members of the Church hierarchy.”

On Aug. 30, Towey wrote a letter addressed to the “Friends of Ave Maria University,” acknowledging his words had hit some members of the Ave Maria community “with great force.” Towey also apologized for his “gratuitous comment about what might have motivated Cardinal Burke’s conduct.”

The original Aug. 29 statement included a sentence that suggested American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, a leader of the conservative wing of the church who has criticized Pope  Francis “may still be smarting from the Holy Father’s decision to remove him from his prominent position as head of the Holy See’s highest ecclesiastical court.” That portion of the statement has since been removed. 

Read the rest here.

More States are Investigating Catholic Sex Crimes

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New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Missouri are all investigating sex crimes covered up by the Catholic church.  The investigations come in the wake of a Pennsylvania investigation that turned up over 300 abusive priests and over 1000 child victims.

Here is a taste of Julie Zauzmer’s and Michelle Boorstein’s piece at The Washington Post:

The results of such state probes could cause many U.S. Catholics to leave the church, as happened after a national probe in Ireland, where the Catholic Church was literally part of the government. Hamilton noted that Scotland’s government also ran a national probe, as did Germany, Sweden, Japan. A commission by the Australian government ran a years-long investigation that just ended this year.

“People are much less inclined to belong to institutions that are suspect,” Merz said. “There’s no doubt that a lot of people have left because of doubting the integrity of this particular institution.”

Read the entire piece here.

*Commonweal*: The Vigano Letter is Suspect, but Francis Should Still Respond

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As we wrote about here last week, Catholic Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano recently claimed Pope Francis knew that Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was a “sexual predator” and did nothing about it.  Vigano made his allegations in an 11-page “testimony.”

Yesterday, the editors of the Catholic magazine Commonweal called Vigano’s letter “a subjective account of recent church history full of unverifiable claims” with a “petty and self-righteous tone” that reads like it was written to “settle personal scores.”

So far, Pope Francis has not addressed the Vigano accusationsbut the Commonweal editors think that he should:

But Francis should do more than respond to those who “seek scandal” with “silence,” as he put it in a recent homily. When he was first asked about Viganò’s charges during an in-flight press conference on his way back to the Vatican from Ireland, he replied, “I will not say a single word on this.” And he hasn’t. That is unwise. However dubious or questionable Viganò’s charges, Francis should respond to them directly, especially given that a number of the claims refer to private conversations between the two men. If Francis did not know about Benedict’s request that McCarrick should keep a low profile, he should say so. If he is afraid of implicating his two predecessors, who promoted McCarrick and allowed him to continue in public ministry, he shouldn’t be. The truth is more important. As the church once again reckons with its leaders’ failures to confront and punish abusers, the faithful deserve answers.

Read the entire editorial here.

Catholic writer claims Vigano testimony is to the sex abuse scandal what Oliver Stone is to the Kennedy assassination

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Writing at the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters argues that Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s testimony that Pope Francis covered-up the inappropriate behavior of former-cardinal Theodore McCarrick is little more than a conspiracy theory.

Here is a taste of his piece, “Vigano letter exposes the putsch against Pope Francis“:

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s testimony proves one thing: The former Vatican ambassador to the United States is to the clergy sex abuse crisis what Oliver Stone is to the assassination of President John Kennedy, a trafficker in conspiracy theories who mixes fact, fiction and venom to produce something explosive but also suspicious. When you finish reading this testimony, as at the end of Stone’s 1991 movie “JFK,” you can only conclude that the product tells us more about the author than it does about the subject.

Vigano is certainly correct that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, longtime Secretary of State to Pope John Paul II, was a patron of disgraced former-cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Stone recognized the assassination happened in Dallas. But why does Vigno fail to mention the key role played by Cardinal Stanislaus Dsiwisz in protecting McCarrick?

Read the entire piece here.

Did Pope Francis Know About Cardinal McCarrick’s Alleged Sexual Abuse and Cover it Up?

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Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former apostolic nuncio in Washington D.C., claims that Pope Francis knew that former Archbishop Theodore McCarrick was a “sexual predator and not only covered it up, but brought McCarrick into his inner-circle.

Vigano’s 11-page report reads like a television drama.  Read it here.  Vigano also claims that Cardinal Wuerl of Washington D.C. was also involved in the cover-up, although Wuerl denies it. (Wuerl also allegedly covered-up sexual abuse in the Diocese of Pittsburgh).

I am sure this will be all over the news later today, but most of what we know right now is coming from the Catholic press.  Here is a taste of the Edward Pentin’s piece at the National Catholic Register:

In an extraordinary 11-page written testament, a former apostolic nuncio to the United States has accused several senior prelates of complicity in covering up Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s allegations of sexual abuse, and has claimed that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on then-Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI but chose to repeal them.

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, 77, who served as apostolic nuncio in Washington D.C. from 2011 to 2016, said that in the late 2000s, Benedict had “imposed on Cardinal McCarrick sanctions similar to those now imposed on him by Pope Francis” and that Viganò personally told Pope Francis about those sanctions in 2013.

Archbishop Viganò said in his written statement, simultaneously released to the Register and other media, (see full text below) that Pope Francis “continued to cover” for McCarrick and not only did he “not take into account the sanctions that Pope Benedict had imposed on him” but also made McCarrick “his trusted counselor.”  Viganò said that the former archbishop of Washington advised the Pope to appoint a number of bishops in the United States, including Cardinals Blase Cupich of Chicago and Joseph Tobin of Newark. 

Read the rest here.

Here is what is happening on Twitter:

The members of the conservative, anti-Francis wing of the Catholic church are swarming like sharks.  Vigano’s report is filled with speculation and theories that need confirmation.  If what he says is an accurate portrayal of events, this could indeed be a bombshell.  Stay tuned.

Hundreds of Priests Accused of Sex Abuse in Pennsylvania

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Map of Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania

The report by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is out and it reveals some pretty disgusting things about the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.  1000s of victims.

Read Michelle Boorstein’s Washington Post coverage here.  A few lowlights from the official report:

  • A priest raped a seven-year-old girl while he was visiting her in the hospital after she’d had her tonsils out
  • A priest made a nine-year-old boy give him oral sex and then rinsed out the boy’s mouth with holy water to purify him.
  • A priest who was a registered psychologist hypnotized a girl and took off her clothes.
  • An accused priest left the priesthood after years of child abuse complaints. Upon leaving, he asked for, and received, a letter of reference for his next job–at Disney World.
  • The report states “while the list of priests is long, we don’t think we got them all.”
  • One of the victims tried to kill herself as the grand jury report was being prepared.
  • Boorstein notes that “the investigation is the most comprehensive yet on Catholic Church sex abuse in the United States.

Read the entire 1356-page report here.

The Vatican Congratulates “Spotlight” on Winning Best Picture

Spotlight_(film)_posterOver at Religion News Service, Rosie Scammell is reporting that the Vatican has given “two thumbs up” to “Spotlight,” the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture.  As most of you probably know, “Spotlight” is a movie about the Boston Globe‘s investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

[“Spotlight”] manages to voice the shock and profound pain of the faithful confronting the discovery of these horrendous realities,” wrote journalist Lucetta Scaraffia of L’Osservatore Romano, a “semi-official” Vatican newspaper.

Here is a taste of Scammell’s piece:

In her column, Scaraffia praised the film for recounting the reality of how, within the Catholic Church, “some are more preoccupied with the image of the institution than of the seriousness of the act.”

Scaraffia also noted Sugar’s acceptance speech, arguing that his reference to the pontiff demonstrated there was still hope in the institution of the church.

“There is trust in a pope who is continuing the cleaning begun by his predecessor,” she wrote.

L’Osservatore Romano’s praise for the movie follows comments of a similar vein by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta, who said earlier this month that all bishops and cardinals should watch the film.

“The movie shows how the instinct — that unfortunately was present in the church — to protect a reputation was completely wrong,” Scicluna told an Italian newspaper.