I’m disposed to think better of Pope Francis than I did of his most recent predecessors, who were cranky old conservative men fixated on Catholics following the rules. Yet his response to the Pennsylvania grand jury findings about sex abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in parishes across the state is completely inadequate. Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick is still a priest, although he is not currently allowed to serve in active ministry and has given up his precious red biretta. Cardinal Bernard Law, the architect of the cover-up in Boston, is in a cushy job at the Vatican. There is not much action yet visible, only the repeat assertion that abuse of minors will not be tolerated and the Church is sorry all this nastiness ever happened. Um….. we’ve heard that before. We’ve heard it often, since the Globe blew the lid off the story in Boston in 2002.
In his letter to Catholics worldwide, the Pope says there will be no more cover-ups. But he offered no plan, no concrete actions that are in any way different from what’s gone on before. And Pope Francis is the guy in charge. Cardinal Wuerl, who was in power in Pennsylvania during much of the period covered by the grand jury report, is still head of the Washington D.C. diocese — a cushy job if I ever heard of one. If Pope Francis wants to send a message about no more cover-ups, he might do something to call Cardinal Wuerl to account for his role in Pennsylvania. Or he could send Bernard Law back to Boston to face his accusers. Or Father McCarrick could become plain old Ted. Absent something concrete like that, Pope Francis looks and sounds completely ineffectual.
The rubric under which the cover-ups happened was the belief that “causing scandal for the Church” was the highest evil. No, guys — the highest evil was sexually abusing children and young adults, and seminarians who came to the Church out of a sense of call to God’s service and instead were lured into Uncle Ted’s bed.
The Church is also viscerally opposed to looking at the all-male clergy thing, which clearly isn’t working and probably never has. Although sex abuse of minors occurs in all kinds of settings, the rampant abuse in Catholic Church culture is notable and can’t be easily explained away.
If I were the parent or grandparent of children being raised in the Catholic church, I wouldn’t let those children to be unsupervised anywhere near a priest — and I’d want that supervision to be non-clergy and include women. Someone has to keep an eye on these guys, because clearly their church hierarchy isn’t.