Once again the Roman Catholic Church is being roiled by a sexual-abuse scandal involving a prominent member of the hierarchy, and once again the prospect of kid-glove treatment of the accused looms large.
Allegations that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick repeatedly abused both boys and adult seminarians have turned the spotlight on Pope Francis, who has denounced a “culture of cover-up” in the church.
McCarrick, archbishop emeritus and confidante to three popes, was ultimately undone when the U.S. church announced June 20 that the pope had ordered him removed from public ministry. The sanction was issued pending a full investigation into a “credible” allegation that he fondled a teenager more than 40 years ago in New York City.
The pope has several options for dealing with one of the most respected American leaders in the universal church: revoke McCarrick’s title of cardinal, sanction him to a lifetime of prayer or defrock him.
A mere priest found to have sexually abused boys and adults would be stripped of his ecclesiastical status.
The 88-year-old retired archbishop of Washington also has been accused of engaging in questionable behavior during the period he served as bishop of two New Jersey dioceses, resulting in a pair of settlements, according to the National Catholic Register.
The Register also reported that some media outlets had received disturbing information about McCarrick’s actions but declined to publish any articles.
“Why did the public silence about the cardinal’s behavior persist for so long? And why did he continue to move upward into the highest ranks of the Church’s hierarchy?” the newspaper asked.
Joan Frawley Desmond, a Register senior editor, wrote the story.
The questions raised go to the heart of the scandal that has rocked the foundation of the Roman Catholic Church with its 1.2 billion faithful.
SEX SCANDALS ABOUND
Pope Francis has spent the better part of this year dealing with a spiraling child sex abuse, adult gay sex and cover-up scandal in Chile that was so vast the entire bishops’ conference offered to resign.
On Friday, the pope accepted the resignation of Honduran deputy to Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who is one of Francis’ top advisers.
Auxiliary Bishop Juan Jose Pineda Fasquelle, 57, was accused o f sexual misconduct with seminarians and lavish spending on his lovers that was so obvious to Honduras’ poverty-wracked faithful that Maradiaga is now under pressure to reveal what he know of Pineda’s misdeeds and why he tolerated a sexually active gay bishop in his ranks, the Associated Press reported.
The McCarrick scandal is even more of a problem for the Catholic Church because of the cardinal’s power and influence.
The AP reports that it was apparently an open secret in some U.S. church circles that “Uncle Ted,” as McCarrick was called, invited seminarians to his beach house, and into his bed.
The wire service pointed out that while such an abuse of power may have been quietly tolerated for decades, it doesn’t fly in the #MeToo era. And there has been a deafening silence from McCarrick’s brother cardinals about what they might have known and when.
“There is going to be so much clamor for the Holy Father to remove the red hat, to formally uncardinalize him,” the Rev. Thomas Berg, vice rector and director of admissions at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, told the Associated Press. St. Joseph’s is the seminary of the archdiocese of New York.
Pope Francis has made it clear that he intends to take a hard line against clergy who prey on children and otherwise violate their vows of celibacy. But he must know that the leadership of the church lacks credibility. That’s because bishops and archbishops who protected abusive priests have largely been given a pass.
Indeed, the case of the late Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston who resigned in 2002 in disgrace at the height of the sexual abuse controversy, is a stark reminder of how the church’s hierarchy takes care of those who have fallen from grace.
Pope John Paul II took Law to Rome to serve as archpriest of the Papal Liberian Basilica of St. Mary Major.
Such kid-glove treatment of a prominent leader of the church added insult to the injury suffered by innocent, trusting Catholics.
Pope Francis would be hard-pressed to lay claim to the moral high ground if he deals with Cardinal McCarrick leniently.