Vatican City — The Australian archbishop taking part in Pope Francis’ clergy sexual abuse summit has suggested the Vatican may need to create a new high-level office to streamline responses to victims and to examine the deep roots of the now decades long abuse scandals.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said such an office could be focused on ensuring “integrity in the church” and would be a way of signalling the seriousness of the problems facing the worldwide institution.
“This is a global emergency,” he said, speaking in a Feb. 20 interview with NCR. “I’m not pressing the alarm button, but I think to see it as anything other than that is to indulge in the old head-in-the-sand thing.”
Coleridge, who is attending the Feb. 21-24 summit as the head of the Australian bishops’ conference, also said during the interview that he is not satisfied with the current process being used by the Vatican to evaluate whether global bishops are fulfilling their obligation to report priests accused of abuse.
While he called Francis’ 2016 motuproprio on the matter “a step in the right direction,” he added: “We need to continue on the journey.”
Coleridge suggested that a new process to hold bishops accountable on abuse cases could involve creation of groups at the regional level charged with investigating prelates alleged to have been negligent in their duty, which would forward their findings onto the Vatican for consideration.
“I could imagine a situation for instance where if a bishop has been derelict there would be perhaps a provincial or national group that might include the metropolitan or the president of the bishops’ conference, assisted by experts of various kinds, who would assess the evidence,” he said.
That group, the archbishop said, could “write a report … let’s say [to] this new dicastery, who would then have their own processes whereby the local material is assessed and a recommendation formulated that would be presented to the pope.”
Coleridge focused most of the 45-minute interview on what he has learned after some 25 years of holding meetings with clergy abuse survivors and on the aspects of the church’s clerical culture that he said “at least aggravated, and perhaps caused, both abuse and its concealment.”
“If we don’t address cultural factors … then all we’ll do is treat the symptoms and not the cause,” he said. “And if that’s what we do, abuse, in one form or another, will reoccur.”
He suggested that the new Vatican office, or dicastery, could “gather up” all the various aspects of the abuse scandals that are currently handled by the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Clergy, and for Bishops and consider the multitude of dimensions of the crisis.
Coleridge suggested that Francis himself could take on some sort of “unusual” level of responsibility for the office, like the pope has done with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, where he has assumed direct responsibility for issues regarding migrants.
Photo: Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops’ conference, speaks at a Feb. 21 news briefing after the opening session of the meeting on the protection of minors in the church at the Vatican. Also pictured are Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, left, and Jesuit Fr. Hans Zollner, president of the Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. (CNS/Paul Haring)
In his remarks on accountability for bishops, Coleridge was referring to Francis’ 2016 letter “As a Loving Mother,” which empowered four Vatican offices to investigate bishops accused of negligence in abuse cases.
The letter replaced an earlier proposal, approved by the pope on the recommendation of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, for creation of a new tribunal specifically tasked with judging bishops. Survivors and advocates have criticized the current process, calling it non-transparent.
“That’s one of the problems,” Coleridge acknowledged. “The Holy See in its processes I think does have to be more transparent. And I think that’s recognized.”
“We’re still struggling to find mechanisms” for accountability, he said. “Traditionally, Catholic bishops have only been accountable to the Holy See. And that has been a hopeless failure in this area of abuse.”
Coleridge said he is not in favor of a proposal to empower metropolitan archbishops to examine accusations made against bishops in their regions.
“If it’s only the metropolitan archbishops … it’s Caesar judging Caesar,” he said.
A need for ‘serious cultural change’
Coleridge, who has led his archdiocese since 2012, is the only Australian bishop taking part in the abuse summit.
He began the interview by talking about what he called the “dramatic experience” faced recently by the church in his country, which was investigated as part of a 2013-17 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“That whole journey of the Royal Commission was agonizing, in many ways and at many levels,” said Coleridge. “It was a very painful experience of coming to another depth of awareness of what abuse is and what is required to ensure that abuse has no place in the church.”
“What was abundantly clear from the years of the Royal Commission and from its final report recommendations is that we are facing the need for serious cultural change,” he said. “It took me years and years and years to see this.”
Coleridge described his own understanding of clergy sexual abuse developing over decades. He said he first considered the issue in terms of sin, then crime and finally as a culture.
The archbishop described the levels at which the church must confront the issue as deeply multi-layered. He discussed formation of seminarians, the need for bishops to better include laypeople in their decision-making and even the language the church uses for its leaders.
On the need to include laypeople in decision-making, Coleridge said bishops used to make judgments on accused priests on their own, without help even from one another.
“This is one of those things that led me to see that we’re dealing with something that is essentially cultural or systemic,” he said.
Photo: Prelates attend the opening session Feb. 21 of the meeting on the protection of minors in the church at the Vatican. (CNS/EvandroInetti, pool)
“Bishops all over Australia and the world were making the same kind of horrendous mistakes with no reference to each other,” he said. “They weren’t comparing notes or ringing each other up. They were making the same mistakes everywhere. It’s uncanny.”
“When you see the evidence of that over time, you have to ask is it cultural?” Coleridge said. “The answer of course is yes, it is. How else can you explain?”
Asked about a recommendation in the Royal Commission’s final report that the Catholic Church consider making celibacy optional for priests, he said he had not seen evidence that had persuaded him that the church should give up its centuries-long tradition of not allowing clergy to marry.
But he added: “What is very clear to me now is that for all our fine talk and tweaking, our formation for celibate living in this current culture has been abysmal. So, there are massive questions … in that area of formation for priestly ministry.”
Coleridge suggested that the church may need to reevaluate the basic model of the seminary it has been using since the reforms of the 16th century Council of Trent.
“I personally think that the attempt to tweak the basic Tridentine model that we’ve been going on with for about  years is probably close to being a failure,” he said. “We need another kind of model of priestly formation that shows the same kind of creativity that Trent showed when it introduced the Tridentine seminary.”
“My own view is that we need to seriously consider an institute of church leadership, where the presbyters are trained and formed, but with others as well, so that all forms of church leadership would be part of this institute,” he said.
Coleridge also criticized what he called a “lack of structured and substantial professional development for bishops,” saying that “needs to be examined very closely.”
‘Rage and grief’ of abuse victims
Before being appointed to Brisbane, Coleridge had served as the archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn, Australia and as an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne. He said he began to understand clergy abuse as a crime when he started having meetings with victims and saw the “devastating effects” it had on them.
“For me the turning point was when I began to sit down across a table with victims and survivors and caught their rage and their grief,” he said. “Once I started to do this over and over again, I began to understand the phenomenon, which you cannot understand until you’ve sat across the table from those who have been abused.”
Coleridge suggested a lack of experience meeting with victims could be a “difficulty” for some Vatican officials.
“They are good people, they’re full of good intention, but the problem is they’ve never sat across a table from a victim, face to face, and felt the rage and the grief, and also been immersed in a sense of personal helplessness,” he said.
“You never get used to this,” he said. “It still leaves me with a sense of helplessness. But that’s part of the journey. You hope that the sense of helplessness doesn’t become a kind of paralysis because that serves no one. It’s got to be an experience of helplessness that somehow, in a peculiar way, becomes empowering.”
“Over time you begin to see things with the eyes of those who have been abused,” said Coleridge. “Not totally. You can’t do that. But you begin to glimpse with their eyes. And the world of course, and certainly the church, looks very different with their eyes.”
Pope Francis has
summoned senior bishops from all over the world to Rome for a landmark meeting
on sexual abuse.
Thursday to Sunday, 190 Catholic leaders, including 10 women, will gather in
the Italian capital at the pope’s request; the event marks the first time in
history that a pope has called senior bishops to discuss sexual abuse.
have struck the Catholic Church for decades, with pressure increasing after
journalistic and judicial investigations revealed patterns of sexual abuse and
cases in 2018 heightened the crisis – some senior bishops have said the issue
puts the very credibility of the Catholic Church at stake.
What’s the summit about?
four-day gathering of about 190 Catholic leaders who will discuss how to
resolve the issue of the sexual abuse of minors.
place in the Vatican, in Rome, under the official title of “Protection of
Minors in the Church”.
Vatican’s press office has described the
meeting’s goal as making “absolutely clear” to bishops how to act to
prevent and deal with sexual abuse.
survivors who have been around for 25 years, like me, this is an incredible
achievement. Years ago, this was inconceivable.
focuses on sharing best practices in dealing with abuse, educating bishops on
the problem, and on bolstering transparency, responsibility and accountability
in the church. It will not, crucially, focus on canon law reform.
summit is important for at least three reasons.
although similar meetings have taken place in the past, it is the first time
that a pope has summoned senior bishops for it.
Pope Francis has given more voice to survivors of clerical sexual abuse – he
has met some of them and has urged bishops to do the same in their countries
before leaving for Rome. Some survivors will also give their testimony at the
the Vatican has acknowledged that
sexual abuse is a global problem in the church, and not only an issue in some
specific countries, as it had previously downplayed it.
everyone agrees on the summit’s importance, but most people welcome it as a
survivors who have been around for 25 years, like me, this is an incredible
achievement,” says Peter Isely, a survivor, critic of the Vatican and
founding member of Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) Global. “Years ago, this was
Why is it happening now?
cases, in particular, have shaken the Vatican in 2018.
In the United States, the
grand jury of the state of Pennsylvania released a report that revealed the
sexual abuse and systematic cover-up of more than 1,000 minors over 70 years,
implicating some 300 clergymen.
After its release, at least 14 other US states have launched similar investigations, suggesting that more scandals are likely to surface in the next few years.
hold banners reading ‘Neither lefties nor fools, Osorno suffers, Bishop Barros,
accessory after the fact,’ during a protest, as Pope Francis visits Santiago,
Chile [File: Carlos Vera/Reuters]
incident took place in Chile, where
bishops and high prelates have come under pressure for covering up a sexual
abuse crisis centred around Fernando Karadima.
Karadima was sentenced to a “life of prayer and penance” in 2011, his
case came back under the spotlight after Pope Francis spoke in support of one
of the bishops involved in the cover-up, in early 2018.
the mistake, the pope has since apologised and called the Chilean bishops to
Rome. They offered their resignations en-masse, and five of them have been
has since been removed from the priesthood.
summit turns out to be more of the same, survivors will keep fighting. It’s a
tsunami that no one will stop,” -Juan Carlos Cruz, survivor
believe the Chilean case was decisive [for calling the summit],” says
Paolo Rodari, Vatican analyst for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. “It
was a big blow for Pope Francis.
impression is that the pope realised that not everyone in the church grasps the
seriousness of the problem,” he says. “It signals that the pope has
understood how serious this is.”
Is the Catholic community supportive?
entirely, although some are not convinced.
victims, for example, don’t support the summit because it doesn’t promise canon
law reform. They have even called it a media bluff.
us, this summit is meaningless,” says Francesco Zanardi, a survivor who
has campaigned on the issue for nine years. He is the president of Rete
L’Abuso, an Italian association of survivors. “We are only going to Rome
the church though, there is little outspoken opposition.
in the church is against sexual abuse, that is not the question,” says Rev
Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with the Religious News Service.
question is that there are bishops, predominantly in the Global South, who
don’t think it is a problem in their countries.”
explains that this happens because scandals haven’t struck all countries, so
some bishops feel safe. But this often happens because of social stigma on the
sexually abused in certain countries, or because survivors are not encouraged
to come out – not because abuses haven’t happened.
What can we expect to happen?
not much, at least for now.
this might lead to concrete results in the future, it’s unlikely to produce
ground-breaking new protocols in the short run.
Francis has warned that expectations around the summit must be
“deflated”, and Vatican sources have called it a step in a 15-year journey.
words have frustrated survivors and activists demanding an immediate end to
clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups.
a priest who sexually abuses a child and a bishop who covers it up to be
removed from the priesthood is not an ‘inflated’ expectation,” says Peter
Isely of ECA Global. “It’s a minimum expectation.”
Monday, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s leading investigator of
clerical sexual abuse, confirmed that “this is not going to be a three-day
wonder” and stressed the importance of follow-ups on the summit.
What do survivors want?
demand zero tolerance – that the Vatican remove from the priesthood not only
any priest guilty of sexually abusing a child, but also any bishops and
cardinals involved in covering him up and shuffling them to other posts.
demands include handing over priest offenders to civil authorities and ending
alternative punishment such as sentences to a life of “penance and
prayer” or retreat in religious institutions instead of jail.
survivors pledge to carry on their battle. “We’ve lived with a lot of
disappointments,” says Peter Isely of ECA Global. “Expectation is not
what drives us.”
Carlos Cruz, who is among the people abused by Karadima in Chile and has also
met Pope Francis to discuss the problem, said: “[Bishops who deny the
problem] are on borrowed time. If the summit turns out to be more of the same,
survivors will keep fighting. It’s a tsunami that no one will
effort to deal with the sex scandals rocking the Roman Catholic Church, the
Pope has convened an extraordinary summit of bishops in Rome.
follows his recent, unprompted, admission that priests had exploited nuns as
“sex slaves” at a convent in France.
Francis decided to call this global conference after discussions with the
so-called C9. This is the group of nine cardinal advisers who were appointed
soon after Francis was elected.
is under serious pressure to provide leadership and generate workable solutions
to what is the most pressing crisis facing the modern Church.
of abuse have emerged in every corner of the world. And the Church has been
accused of covering up crimes committed by priests, leaving its moral authority
Francis must also confront the assumptions, attitudes and practices that have
allowed a culture of abuse to flourish. The extent of this challenge may prove
caption Journalist Jason Berry was one of the first people to expose the extent
of abuse in the Church
summit, to be attended by the heads of all national bishops’ conferences from
more than 130 countries, is only the beginning of an attempt to address a
sickness that has been poisoning the Church since at least the 1980s.
Jason Berry, a local newspaper reporter in the US state of Louisiana, began
following the story of an abusive priest called Father Gilbert Gauthe, he did
not expect his work to ignite an international scandal that is still ablaze
more than 30 years later.
Berry’s work led to the 1992 book Lead Us Not Into Temptation, based on civil
legal actions that the Church settled with multiple accusers towards the end of
Mr Berry’s work was followed by an investigation at the Boston Globe newspaper
that provided an even more extensive narrative of clergy abuse and cover-up.
The journalists won a prestigious Pulitzer Prize and their work was dramatised
in the film Spotlight.
caption The work of the Boston Globe’s Michael Rezendes, (left), Walter V
Robinson, and SaschaPfieffer (right) led to the Academy Award-winning film
six of the eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania, which
were the subject of scrutiny last year.
Attorney, Josh Shapiro, subpoenaed and reviewed half a million internal
diocesan documents. Dozens of witnesses gave evidence, some clergy admitted to
their offences. Mr Shapiro’s report, published in December, was devastating.
1,000 child victims were identifiable from the Church’s own records,” he
wrote, with “credible allegations against over 300 predator priests”.
report, which is more than 1,000 pages long, covers the past 70 years – and the
examples are horrific.
diocese of Scranton, a priest raped a girl and when she became pregnant
arranged for an abortion. The priest’s line manager, his area bishop, wrote a
is a very difficult time in your life and I realise how upset you are,” he
wrote. “I too share your grief.”
letter was not addressed to the girl, but the priest.
another diocese, a priest visited a seven-year-old girl in hospital after she
had undergone a tonsillectomy – and raped her.
another, a priest abused a nine-year-old and then rinsed out the boy’s mouth
with holy water “to purify him”.
report concluded that predatory paedophiles had been able to abuse children
because the Church hid their activities by moving accused clerics on to other
parishes and not reporting their offences to the police.
Rev Franco Mulakkal had risen from small-town Kerala, on India’s south-west
coast, to become a bishop in the north of the country.
arrested in September 2018, following allegations from a nun that he regularly
visited her convent in order to rape her. The bishop, who has temporarily stood
down from ministry, has denied all the charges, telling reporters the
accusations are “baseless and concocted”.
caption Catholic nuns in Kerala, India, are calling for the arrest of the Rt
Rev Franco Mulakkal, of Jalandhar, for alleged rape
letter, written by the nun to her superiors, she claimed the first rape had
happened in May 2014 and the last in September 2016.
January, the nuns appealed to the chief minister of Kerala to intervene on
their behalf, after Church officials allegedly ordered them to leave the state,
in an effort to clean up the mess.
complained that they are exploited because they are often reliant upon priests
and bishops for their accommodation and fear abandonment if they fight back
against abusive clergy.
Malawi, where HIV prevalence among adults up to the age of 64 is more than 10%,
nuns are also alleged to have been targeted because they are regarded as
“pure” and much less likely to be carrying the virus.
‘Never again’ pledge
the Australian government announced a Royal Commission, which was charged with
investigating institutional responses to child abuse. The organisations
involved included residential care centres for young people, schools, sports,
arts and other community groups, and the Church.
commission concluded that 7% of Australia’s Roman Catholic priests had
allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010.
religious order, the St John of God Brothers, 40% of its leaders were accused
of abusing children.
Foster, the mother of two children who were abused by priests in Melbourne,
complained to the authorities. She told BBC News that instead of addressing her
concerns, the family became the subject of a whispering campaign.
said that we were liars, that we were after money,” she said.
what they would say to parishioners. And parishioners would believe [it]
because who would believe that a priest would rape a child? It was much easier
to believe that lie than the truth that priests were sexually abusing
2018, the Roman Catholic Church in Australia published its formal response to
the Royal Commission.
caption Chrissie Foster is the mother of two children who were abused by
priests in Melbourne, Australia
the Most Reverend Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops
Conference, said that “far too many” clergy, religious and lay people
within the Church in Australia had “failed in their duty to protect and
honour the dignity of all including and especially the most vulnerable, our
children and our young people”.
one voice, the bishops and the leaders of religious orders here this morning
make the pledge, ‘Never again,'” he said.
summer, Britain’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse published a
report on two of the most prestigious Roman Catholic schools in the UK:
Ampleforth College, in North Yorkshire, and Downside School, in Somerset.
to the report, the schools “prioritised the monks and their own
reputations over the protection of children” and “appalling abuse was
inflicted over decades on children as young as seven at Ampleforth and 11 at
inquiry heard witness testimony from those who were forced into sexual acts,
sometimes in the presence of fellow pupils.
conclusion, the report found that “many perpetrators did not hide their
sexual interests from the children”.
blatant openness of these activities demonstrates there was a culture of
acceptance of abusive behaviour,” it said.
publication, Ampleforth said the “abbey and college wishes to repeat their
heartfelt apology to all victims and survivors of abuse”.
expressed similar regret, saying: “The abbey and school fully acknowledges
the serious failings and mistakes made in both protecting those within our care
and responding to safeguarding concerns.”
caption Downside Abbey and school apologised for failing its pupils
organisation that numbers more than 1.2 billion adherents and is present in
virtually every country on Earth, the focus is now firmly fixed on Pope
was elected, in March 2013, the Pope was fully aware of the impact of clerical
abuse scandals on the Church.
year, in July 2014, he met six victims from three countries – two people each
from Ireland, Britain and Germany. At a private Mass, with the six victims
among the congregation, he offered an explicit apology.
God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of
clerical sexual abuse committed against you,” Pope Francis said during his
homily, published later by the Vatican.
caption A demonstration near the Vatican in support of the victims of
I humbly ask forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission
on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of
abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.”
after, Pope Francis added eight new members to the Pontifical Commission for
the Protection of Minors, from Africa, Oceania, Asia, and South America. But
this body was soon hit by defections. The only two individuals on the
commission who’d been victims of abuse, Marie Collins and Peter Saunders,
Collins, who was molested by a priest when she was 13, wrote a letter saying
that while the Pope may have wanted to address clerical abuse, the Vatican’s
bureaucracy kept obstructing proposals for change.
commission made a recommendation that all correspondence from victims and
survivors should receive a response, she discovered that none had received
find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the
Church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse,” she
wrote, “yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to
even acknowledge their letters.”
concluded with these words: “It is a reflection of how this whole abuse
crisis in the Church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary
actions behind closed doors.”
caption Clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins resigned from the Church’s
commission for the protection of minors
Francis has decided to open the doors, convening an unprecedented summit to
address the issue. But he’s already tried to reduce expectations by warning the
media, during the flight back to Rome from the United Arab Emirates, that a
three-day conference represents only the beginning of a conversation.
have argued that he should simply issue an edict for the Church to follow. But
implementing universal protocols is challenging because the Church exists in a
range of cultures and judicial systems.
to imagine a more pressing challenge for the 82-year-old pontiff. His
pontificate began with widespread enthusiasm for a man who chose pastoral
appeal over pomp and ceremony, humility and compassion over the trappings of
it ends is likely to depend on the action he takes, and the protocols he
implements, to deal with the scourge of abuse.
If you have been affected by any of the issues regarding sexual abuse
raised in this article, help and support are available. Find out more at BBC Action Line.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been found guilty by the Vatican of sex abuse
and defrocked, as calls rose Saturday for Pope Francis to reveal what he knew
about the once-powerful American prelate’s apparently decades-long predatory
announcement Saturday, delivered in uncharacteristically blunt language for the
Vatican, meant that the 88-year-old McCarrick, the former archbishop of
Washington, D.C., becomes the highest-ranking churchman and the first cardinal
to be punished by dismissal from the clerical state, or laicization.
notified Friday of the decision, which was upheld upon his appeal and approved
by Pope Francis.
pontiff next week leads a summit of bishops from around the world who have been
summoned to Rome help him grapple with the entrenched problems of clerical sex
abuse and the systematic cover-ups by the Catholic church’s hierarchy.
of revelations about priests who have sexually preyed on minors and their
bosses who shuffled abusive clergy from parish to parish instead of removing them
from access to children have shaken the faith of many Catholics. They also
threaten the moral authority of Francis and even the survival of his papacy.
who in his prestigious red cardinal robes hobnobbed with presidents, other VIP
politicians and pontiffs, is now barred from celebrating Mass or other
sacraments including confession and from wearing clerical garb. He is to be
referred to as Mr.McCarrick.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Holy See’s guardian of
doctrinal purity, issued a decree on Jan. 11 finding McCarrick guilty of
“solicitation in the sacrament of confession, and sins against the Sixth
Commandment with minors and adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of
power,” the Vatican said. That commandment forbids adultery.
Wednesday, Congregation officials considered his appeal and upheld the decree.
“recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accordance with
(church) law, rendering it as ‘res iudicata,’” the Vatican said, using the
Latin phrase for admitting no further recourse.
McCarrick scandal was particularly damning to the church’s reputation because
it apparently was an open secret in some ecclesial circles that he slept with
adult seminarians. Francis yanked McCarrick’s rank as a cardinal in July after
a U.S. church investigation found credible an allegation he fondled a teenage
altar boy in the 1970s.
civil lawyer, Barry Coburn, said Saturday that his client had no comment on the
declined to say if McCarrick would stay at the residence in Kansas where he
moved after Francis ordered him to live in penance and prayer while the
investigation into his actions continued.
Salina, Kansas, diocese, said “Mr.McCarrick will continue to reside at the St.
Fidelis Friary in Victoria until a decision of permanent residence is
bishops arriving for the sex abuse summit, victims’ rights advocates are also
converging on Rome. They are demanding that Francis, other Vatican officials and
bishops elsewhere come clean about how McCarrick managed such a meteoric rise
through church ranks despite reports about his sexual life.
has known from the earliest days of his papacy, or he should have known, that
ex-cardinal McCarrick was a sexual predator,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, an
advocate at BishopAccountability.org.
“He has a
resistance to removing bishops and he also has a tolerance for bishops who are
sexual wrongdoers,” Doyle told The Associated Press on Saturday near St.
defrocking, Doyle said: “Let McCarrickbe the first of many. I can think of 10
other bishops who are substantively, credibly accused of sexual abuse with
minor and sexual misconduct with adults, who should be laicized.”
conservative lay group, The Catholic Association, said in a statement that much
more must be done to hold accountable “those in the church hierarchy who looked
the other way as McCarrick rose through their ranks” and to ensure that
priestly celibacy is restored and youths are safeguarded from sexual abuse.
with Doyle was Phil Saviano, a board member of BishopAccountability.org, and a
survivor of sexual abuse by a priest. While calling McCarrick’s defrocking
“ultimately a good thing,” he said the punishment should have been meted out
he hoped Francis isn’t “throwing a bone to his dissenters in an attempt to
quiet everybody down. And then McCarrick will be the one and only, because
there are certainly many others who have allegations against them who should
face some accountability.”
account of being abused helped the Boston Globe produce a Pulitzer-winning
investigation into church cover-ups, which was chronicled in the movie
ordained a priest in his native New York City in 1958, McCarrick embraced a
vocation that required celibacy. Later on in his career, McCarrick curried
cachet at the Vatican as a stellar fundraiser. A globe-trotting powerbroker,
McCarrick liked to be called “Uncle Ted” by the young seminarians he courted.
apparent common knowledge in church circles of his sexual behavior, McCarrick
rose up through the ranks, even serving as the spokesman for fellow U.S.
bishops when they enacted a “zero tolerance” policy against sexually abusive
priests in 2002.
One of his
accusers, James Grein, the son of a family friend of McCarrick’s, testified to
church officials that, among other abuses, McCarrick had repeatedly groped him
during confession. He said the abuse, which went on for decades, began when he
am happy that the pope believed me,” Grein said in a statement issued through
his lawyer. He expressed hope that McCarrick “will no longer be able to use the
power of Jesus’ church to manipulate families and sexually abuse children.”
said pressure must be put on U.S. state attorney generals and senators to
change the statute of limitations for abuse cases.
of priests, bishops and cardinals are hiding behind man-made law,” he said.
current archdiocese of Washington, D.C., where McCarrick was posted at the
pinnacle of his career from 2001-2006, said it hoped that the Vatican decision
“serves to help the healing process for survivors of abuse, as well as those
who have experienced disappointment or disillusionment because of what former Archbishop
McCarrick has done.”
were also made about McCarrick’s conduct in the New Jersey dioceses of Newark
and Metuchen, where he previously served.
himself became implicated in the decades-long McCarrick cover-up after a former
Vatican ambassador to Washington accused the pope of rehabilitating the
cardinal from sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI despite being told of his
penchant for young men.
hasn’t responded to those claims but he ordered a limited Vatican
investigation. The Vatican has acknowledged the outcome may produce evidence
that mistakes were made and said Francis would “follow the path of truth,
wherever it may lead.”
abuse scandals have threatened to taint the legacy of past papacies, including
that of John Paul II, who has since been made a saint.
MarcialMaciel, a pedophile, enjoyed John Paul II’s admiration for his success
in spurring vocations and for inspiring generous financial donations.
predatory crimes against children were ignored for decades by the Vatican
Mary’s University in San Antonio (Wikimedia Commons/25or6to4)
Washington — After the release of the Pennsylvania grand
jury report last summer, Thomas Mengler, president of St. Mary’s
University in San Antonio, Texas, sat down and wrote his archbishop a letter,
in effect saying, “You need to get ahead of this.”
recommended a lay commission to audit the archdiocese’s efforts addressing the
issue and to suggest ways to improve. This would be separate and in addition to
the archdiocesan review board that evaluates individual allegations — and this
new commission’s members would not be appointed by the archbishop.
Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller listened. A well-respected retired
appeals court chief justice, Catherine Stone (herself a survivor of sexual
abuse, though not by a clergy member), was tapped to head the commission, which
report on Jan. 31, the same day the Texas bishops released names of priests accused
of sexual abuse.
the seven members of that commission were affiliated in some way with St.
Mary’s University; five were alumni, including Stone, whose law degree is from
the Marianist school. The commission is one example of how Catholic colleges
and universities are stepping up to the plate to assist the church with the
crisis of sexual abuse and cover-up.
think Catholic universities have a responsibility to help the church,”
Mengler said. Mengler told the story of the commission as part of a workshop —
ominously titled “Multiple Paths of Securing Money in a Hostile
Environment” — as part of the annual meeting Feb. 2-4 of the Association
of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C.
admitted the recent explosion of attention to the sex abuse crisis is part of
the “hostile environment” Catholic schools face today. That’s on top
of challenges about the affordability, relevance and even necessity of higher
education in general, and liberal arts and/or religiously-affiliated institutions
The meeting addressed those issues in sessions such as “Crafting a Compelling Narrative for Catholic Higher Education” and “Making Difficult Business Decisions Without Abandoning Your Catholic Mission.” Speakers highlighted high graduation and retention rates and lower student debt at Catholic schools. But the sex abuse crisis was “definitely” on the minds of the college and universities presidents and other administrators at the meeting, said Francesco Cesareo, president of Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, and current chair of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board.
Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board and president of Assumption
College in Worcester, Massachusetts, speaks Oct. 12, 2018, in Washington.
justifiably concerned about how the crisis might negatively impact their
institutions, Cesareo told NCR, although no data yet shows any decrease in
enrollment, applications or fundraising at Catholic colleges and universities.
are also thinking about how they can help their communities — especially
students — to understand and navigate the explosion of news in the past months,
by pointing out the progress the church has made since 2002, while still
“recognizing the failure of leadership,” he said.
are asking questions about accountability and transparency, often around issues
of buildings or statues of now-disgraced clergy, said ACCU president Michael
Galligan-Stierle. In those instances, schools “have acted quickly and made
changes,” he said.
workshop on today’s “hostile environment,” Seton Hill University
president Mary Finger said the specter of sexual abuse “permeates conversations”
— whether parents concerned about their young adult children’s safety or
potential donors wondering how the crisis will affect the school’s viability.
has said, “I’m not going to give you money because of this,” Finger
said, but the crisis does make fundraising more difficult, as it raises
questions about a school’s future.
another level of, ‘Are you going to survive?’ ” Finger said, adding that
she recommends being “as straightforward and honest as we can.”
is about building trust,” she said.
statements have called upon the bishops to implement reforms that include
independent oversight and the expertise of laity, especially women. Its members
have offered their expertise in service to the church.
said college and university leaders want to “be a part of the
solution” by assisting current church leaders and preparing their students
to assume important leadership roles in the church.
resources, competencies and expertise in the areas of psychology, criminal justice
and law, social work and other areas, Catholic colleges and universities could
“be of service to both the local church or bishops, and more broadly to
the church in the United States, in addressing the situation,” Cesareo
bishops’ responsiveness may vary, he said, “but as leaders of these
institutions, we have to make the offer and hope they take us up on it.”
Schlumpf is NCR national correspondent. Her email address is
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @HeidiSchlumpf.]
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., anoints the hands of
Father Nathan Maskal during an ordination Mass June 2, 2018, at the Cathedral
of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. Father Maskal was part of the
diocese’s largest group of seminarians to be ordained priests in the last 43
years. (CNS photo/Today’s Catholic/Joe Romie)
in today’s church need skills in forming communities and working with all the
baptized faithful, particularly women, the study proposes.
against priests placing themselves above laypeople.
priesthood becomes a path to power, priests can understand themselves as
gatekeepers of ‘discipline, rules and organization,’ rather than as disciples
among disciples,” it says. The document, created out of a series of meetings
of a dozen religious educators, theologians and church ministers, both men and
women, cautions against “a concentration on functions unique to
priests” which can “appear to create a gulf” between them and
Thomas Groome, professor in theology and religious education at Boston College
and a member of the panel who authored the report, the future of seminary
formation could be seen in his classroom when a grandmother took a fellow
student and Jesuit scholastic under her wing, becoming a spiritual mentor.
Priesthood, the study says, is not an excuse to rule over laypeople but should
provide an opportunity to be part of collaborative ministry, through which
priests and laypeople learn from each other.
also calls for:
future priests for a changing church, including the growth of Latinos; the
increasing numbers of young Catholics disaffected with the church who
identify as “nones;” the impact of the sex abuse crisis and the
decline in numbers of priests. The study deliberately took no position on
married or women priests, electing to make recommendations about the
priesthood within the realm of current church practice.
to be directed and taught by women, as well as laymen and priests, and to
be part of university settings or formation centers open to priests and
laypeople studying for ministry.
end to isolated, monastic-type seminary structures. “The enclosed
setting of the seminary, often insulated from the everyday world of
families,” the report said, can serve to “isolate
seminarians.” The study challenged the model of seminaries set apart
from other church communities. It argues that the model put forth by the
16thcentury Council of Trent, which set seminarians apart during their
training, needs to be changed.
priest formation consistent with the virtue of humility, citing the
teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the Bible and the reflections of
Pope Francis, that priest candidates should not reach for an unattainable
spiritual perfection, instead seeing themselves as among the baptized
people of God. It urged psychological screening of seminarians and
encouragement of frank discussions about celibacy and sexuality.
study of Francis’ reflections on the priesthood. The pope has roundly
condemned clericalism and, in an earthy image widely quoted, urged priests
to be shepherds who take on the smell of their flock.
church to pull away from a focus on the ontological changes conferred at
ordination, and instead focus on placing priesthood in the context of
communities of baptized believers.
is trying to pull us back from that exaggerated sense of priesthood,” said
Groome. The Boston College report provides a shift in emphasis from a Vatican
study of U.S. seminaries released in 2008 that argued that seminarians should
be trained largely by priests.
R. Gaillardetz, a professor of theology at Boston College and another member of
the panel, noted that much of what “To Serve the People of God”
recommends is already taking place in many seminaries.
makes our statement distinctive is that we make a concerted effort to show how
such proposals for reform proceed from a coherent and, we believe, compelling
theology of the priesthood that builds on the best of Catholic tradition,”
Richard Lennan, another Boston College theology professor and member of the
panel, said the significance of the study is in its stance on the theology of
much of our practice and thinking about the priesthood has seen the priest in
isolation: a person called directly by Christ,” he said. The document
calls upon priests to see themselves more as part of a community of believers,
ready to collaborate with the non-ordained.
Sr. Katarina Schuth, professor of the Social Scientific Study of Religion at
the St. Paul Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, and author
of numerous studies on seminary formation, said the Boston College report,
because of its reliance on Vatican II and the Scriptures, should have a
long-standing impact on seminary educators.
points out the need to reach out to millennials who are usually estranged from
the church. While seminarians are often millennials themselves, they are a
minority, being among the seven percent of young Catholics who consider the
church to be important in their lives.
are very unlike their contemporaries,” she said, noting that in many ways
they are alienated from the values and views of their peers. Millennial
seminarians, she said, need to be encouraged to engage their age cohorts,
instead of seeing them as godless and irredeemable absent an intense religious
noted that clericalism among seminarians is frequently nurtured as they realize
that they are among the relative few who are pursuing studies to the
priesthood, making them particularly valuable for dioceses that desperately
she said, can be nurtured in seminary settings that emphasize: “You are
very special, you will be treated very well because we really need you.”
what the study points out is incorporated into seminary training already, she
said. Women are frequently on seminary faculty. About half of U.S. seminaries
have an affiliation with a university where seminarians study alongside
message of the study is best directed toward those seminaries that continue to
isolate their students, Sulpician Fr. Phillip Brown, rector of St. Mary’s
Seminary and University in Baltimore, said.
study, he said, “is clarifying. It is pointing back to the direction set
by the church.”
is sending a message,” he said, noting its call for laypeople, including
women, to be part of seminary formation. Such changes could change clericalist
attitudes that contributed to the sex abuse crisis, in which priests and
bishops too often sided with clerics when accusations involving children were
raised, Brown said.
bring a dose of realism,” he said, particularly those with experience as
parents. “Women intuit things differently than men,” he added, making
their presence in formation programs vital. Bringing laypeople into the
formation process, he said, provides “a reality check” that counters
mysterious ontological change that happens at ordination, a part of the church’s
doctrine, is supported within the study’s framework, said Brown. But he argued
it has to be looked at differently. Much of that grace, said Brown, is let
loose not at the moment of ordination but through the process of ministry,
during which priests can learn from those they serve.
who wants to be effective, said Brown, “has to realize he is one of the
Feuerherd is a correspondent for NCR’s Field Hospital series on parish life and
is a professor of journalism at St. John’s University, New York.]