by Liam Kennedy ‘19
Time after time it seems that the Catholic Church cannot get it together. The Church in the United States has been hit with seemingly revelation after revelation of more priests accused of sexual abuse that were attached to some sort of cover-up or incorrect handling of the situation. Prominent Church officials, two of which led the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, resigned their positions as a result of these revelations. The proximity of these officials to home is quite unsettling.
First, McCarrick was removed from duty following an accusation of recurring sexual abuse of a teenager 47 years ago when McCarrick was a priest in New York. Then, it was revealed that McCarrick preyed on seminary students in the Archdiocese of Newark in the 80s. He was stripped of his title as cardinal, and essentially went into exile, now living in a Kansas friary. It has been reported that Pope Francis knew about McCarrick’s abuse five years ago when he became pope. Five years of no punishment. Five years of cover-up by the man in the highest position in the Church.
Next it was Pennsylvania, where a grand jury report revealed widespread sexual abuse that was covered up in six out of eight of the state’s dioceses. There was over 300 priests listed on the report with over 1,000 victims listed as well. Wuerl then resigned, taking responsibility for his involvement in the cover up when he was the Archbishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006.
Bishops all across the United States gathered in Baltimore in November to try and initiate some reform, like a third-party reporting system, conduct standards, and protocols for removing bishops from office because of abuse, but the Vatican intervened and prevented them from voting, limiting them to only debating the topic. The bishops were asked to wait until a Vatican winter synod on the topic.
As a young Catholic myself, I believe there needs to be some major, church wide changes in how the Church handles sexual abuse cases. The American bishops finally were trying to do the right thing, something that they should have addressed years ago. The Vatican is hoping for a more global approach to a solution for clerical abuse, but that should not stop American bishops from enacting reform in the United States. Their efforts could have provided a template for an international response to an increasingly worsening situation. McCarrick should have been stripped of his title and punished five years ago, not when the public learned of it five months ago. Cases in Pennsylvania should not have been hidden for 70 years without resolution. I have to question whether the officials of these dioceses truly are living the pious lives they are supposed to be.
A standard must be set on how to deal with sexual abuse because it is obvious that some Church officials have no idea how to handle the problem. The parishioners of each diocese deserve to know when a priest or bishop is legitimately accused of sexual abuse. That validity must be investigated by a third party, a separate body dedicated to investigation within the Church with no affiliation to any diocese, and if the case warrants it, it should be handed to the police for a criminal investigation. If the accuser has grounds to their claim, that clergyman should be removed from their positions. A zero-tolerance policy must be put in place for the bishops who cover up the actions of fellow clergymen. Those who commit such heinous and sinful acts like these do not deserve to be a leader in the Church.