How many times is the public going to hear from the leaders of the Catholic Church that they are serious, this time, about rooting out the seeds of sexual abuse that have sprouted into the fabric of the oft-disgraced institution?
If the past and present are any indication, there will be no foreseeable, singular end to these hollow proclamations of real change, of this time it’s different. In the light of yet another slew of high-profile scandals, the Vatican remains silent, only taking action to impeded any progress that independent investigative organizations might be making.
To be fair, there are segments of the Catholic Church that are fed up with the perception that leadership in the church doesn’t care about the scandals that continue to pop up, the victims who have found the courage to come forward and corroborate the increasing clouds of smoke with fire in the form of allegations against high-ranking Catholic, recently against former Washington, D.C. Archbishop Theodore McCarrick.
McCarrick resigned in July, essentially an admission that the forthcoming allegations against him were credible. And, in light of yet another scandal, a contingent of American bishops were determined not to take the same, half-cocked steps that had been taken in the past. They weren’t content to pass the buck on rampant sexual abuse in the church any longer. They would investigate.
As they’d come to find out this month, the Vatican has other plans in mind. In the wake of the McCarrick allegations, the Holy See issued a statement, essentially stating that they had banished the 88-year-old McCarrick to a ‘life of prayer and penance’. But, as is the Vatican’s way, they stated that ‘the examination of the facts and circumstances’ would continue, including ‘the entire documentation present in the Archives of the Dicasteries and Offices of the Holy See regarding the former Cardinal McCarrick’.
The statement vowed to ‘make known the conclusions of the matter regarding Archbishop McCarrick’… ‘in due course’. And, as they have in the past, the Vatican’s representatives made absolutely clear: ‘Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated and a different treatment for Bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable.’
This statement is so unequivocal, so adamant, and so uncompromising. The abuse will be investigated, period. Results of investigations will be disclosed to the public, even if the Church could not will itself to refer to allegations of chronic sexual abuse and pedophilia as anything more than a ‘matter’ pertaining to McCarrick.
In other words, this time will be different. The buck stops here, the Vatican said.
Four months after the abuse allegations levied against McCarrick surfaced, the Catholic Church had done many things. They’d moved McCarrick from Washington to a friary in Kansas. They’d remained largely silent on the matter of the canonical trial – their alternative to a criminal investigation – into McCarrick’s alleged past indiscretions. They’d admitted that paying out a combined $180,000 in two out-of-court settlements involving young seminarians’ allegations that McCarrick had preyed on them.
And the Vatican also did something else that speaks volumes to Catholic leadership’s true feelings about how sexual abuse allegations should be handled, and how deep any investigation should go. Issuing statements is easy – the Church can crank them out as easy as they’d write a Thank You note at this point. But, when it comes to confronting efforts by lower leadership to investigate abuse in the Church – like, actually investigate it – it turns out that the Vatican isn’t quite as ready to embrace the change as they’ve implied.
‘Observers are calling this week’s U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops assembly a high-stakes opportunity for the bishops to address their role in the ongoing child sex abuse crisis that has rocked the church this year.
But USCCB president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo opened the event Monday (Nov. 12) by declaring that the Vatican had issued a last-minute directive for bishops to hold off on the votes, saying they should wait until after a global meeting of church leaders at the Vatican in February about sexual abuse.’ (Religion News)
So, as it turns out, things aren’t really different this time.
It turns out the top-down culture of sexual abuse, coverup, and status quo is exactly the same as its ever been. Or, perhaps even worse. After all, the American bishops appear genuine about taking steps to bring the truth to light, deal with it, and move on, once and for all. In the face of this potential upheaval for the better, the Vatican has said ‘nyet’.
This reaction by an institution that has become increasingly sanctimonious on so many other issues, is yet another blow to a much-maligned institution sustaining itself on the backs of those believers willing to compartmentalize their morality. And, while the lower rungs of Catholic leadership deserve genuine credit for attempting to reform the Church they have given their lives to, they must also acknowledge that their institution cannot ever move forward so long as it is imbued with poison from the highest ranks.