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Catholic lay group to investigate voting cardinals, publish results before next papal election

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Jacob Imam, Better Church Governance's Operations Director. John-Henry Westen / LifeSiteNews

October 3, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – As Catholics in the pews and the hierarchy continue to grapple with the Church’s sexual abuse scandal, a group of lay Catholics have launched an initiative to foster accountability among the Church’s hierarchy, specifically cardinals. 

The Better Church Governance (BCG) group announced plans Sunday to research and publish a survey of each of the Church’s cardinal electors, those eligible to vote in papal conclaves, in hopes of having it ready in time for the election of the next pope.

Numerous cardinals have remarked about how difficult it is for the cardinals to know one another, BCG’s Operations Director Jacob Imam told LifeSiteNews, and consequently, this would inhibit informed decision-making.

“A number of cardinals have mentioned to me and quite a number of other people that the most precarious part of a papal conclave was knowing who the cardinal electors are,” Imam said. “We thought; we needed to change this.”

BCG made the announcement at a private event hosted on campus at the Catholic University of America. The University, which was founded by the U.S. Bishops and has all six resident U.S. cardinals sitting on its Board of Trustees, was not associated with the BCG event. 

BCG’s premier project, The Red Hat Report, will offer a brief introduction to each of the currently 124 cardinal electors, noting their handling of abuse and corruption, both sexual and fiscal, and their theological and pastoral priorities, Imam told LifeSiteNews’ Editor-in-Chief John-Henry Westen Monday in an exclusive interview.

“We live in very dark times, with very dark corners,” he said. “We must shine light in them so that the laity might be more vigilant.”

A lay response to clergy sex abuse and cover-up

Announcement of The Red Hat Report follows several months of jarring revelations of sexual abuse in the Church, from allegations of serial predation of seminarians, young priests and other young men by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing seven decades of abuse by at least 300 priest abusers in six dioceses there. 

Both scandals have raised the question of whom in the Church’s hierarchy knew what and when they knew it, and what action was taken to cover for abusers. 

The McCarrick accusation of abuse of a minor decades ago that surfaced in June opened the door to the “open secret” that everybody knew about the high-level cardinal, leading more victims to come forward against him and others, and shining light on the issue of homosexual predation among clergy.

Allegations at all levels of the Church

The scandal has reached the Chair of Peter, with former Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s August 25 testimony implicating Pope Francis and other senior prelates in covering up for McCarrick.

Francis has yet to directly address Vigano’s claims.

The Pope also faces charges he failed to adequately act upon abuse allegations when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had hoped for assistance from Rome in investigating the McCarrick scandal – as bishops and cardinals are answerable to the pope. 

However, after the apparent rejection last month by Francis of USCCB’s leadership’s request for an apostolic visit to address the abuse crisis in the U.S., the USCCB announced efforts it would undertake on its own authority to investigate McCarrick. 

Information – for laity and cardinals

Imam, a Marshall Scholar of the University of Oxford who was baptized 10 years ago and received into the Catholic Church three years ago, explained the overall mission of The Red Hat Report is two-fold; to inform both the laity and the cardinal electors about the men in the running for pope.

“We must do a good job to help the princes make an informed decision about who shall be our Holy Father,” he said.

“We will ultimately package this together in a very critical academic volume that we will give to each of the cardinals,” said Imam. “They can use it or not, it’s just for them to make an informed decision. We’ll also put this online so that it will be more accessible to the laity.”

BCG is in the start-up process, which also means fundraising mode. It projects expenses the first year of the project at some $1,126,500. 

After the first edition is completed, the cardinal list will need continual updating and revision as cardinal electors age out and pass away and new ones are selected. BCG currently expects its projected budget could drop by roughly $500,000 in subsequent years.

The group does hope to expand into more projects. 

“With the USCCB’s call for a lay review of bishops in Aug 2018 and Pope Francis’s meeting with world bishops slated for Feb 2019,” BCG states, “we see the potential for expanding our work to include the entire episcopacy and becoming a permanent, independent watchdog.”

It has begun by building a team of roughly 60 researchers comprised of professional academics and reporters, according to BCG’s prospectus, along with lawyers and other professionals from 15 different institutions in North America, Europe, and Asia. 

Investigators include former FBI agents looking into the most ‘papabile,’ or influential cardinals, as well as those who are little known.

BCG is currently constructing the dossiers of the American cardinals, and plans to soon start forming groups in Italy to begin researching their cardinals.

The group looks to launch a website in February 2019 with the results for the North American cardinals, followed by the dossiers of the Italian cardinals, along with most ‘papabile’ cardinals worldwide completed the following month. 

The rest of the cardinals’ dossiers will be published in regional groups, leading up to the final publish date of January 2020. The first full edition of The Red Hat Report is scheduled for release in April 2020.

Research will entail collecting and organizing credible facts on the cardinals, discerning credible reports from unsubstantiated claims, and integrating the data. When necessary they will travel to investigate locally. 

The need to know about these men

“We want to have complete dossiers done on every single cardinal elector,” Imam told LifeSiteNews. “That means knowing their background, their history of sexual abuse or sexual corruption, financial corruption.”

The cardinals’ theological leanings will be published but not critiqued, he said. 

“We want to know their theological priorities,” he said. “It’s not our job to declare a prelate to be orthodox or unorthodox, we merely know that this is an important aspect of a cardinal when making a decision about who shall be Holy Father that they will want to know. And so we’ll mark their theological priorities without, of course, giving judgment about them.”

Also important is where a given cardinal’s backing generates from – especially in the wake of McCarrick – who rose to prominence in the Church while allegedly preying continually on young men. 

“We’ll also note their patronage,” Imam said. “We know that this is important; who are their mentors, what are their connections, who are those that they’re associated with.”

Clarity and truth

Imam also said there’s a lot of false rumors and false accusations of people out there, and BCG wants to dispel those as well.

“We want to bring clarity to the conversation,” he told LifeSiteNews. “And it is through our research, through our investigative teams that we’re hoping to do that.”

This new lay-led initiative for reform in the Church stems from a great love and care for Jesus and His Church, Imam said.

“This is not a project to condemn anyone,” he stated. “This is an attempt to make the purity of the Church more visible, so that more people will be saved, more people will be loved, see their love for God grow and love for one another.” 

“This is for the protection of our children, and for our friends and for ourselves,” he added. “And it is for the greater glory of God that we are doing all of this.”

LifeSiteNews will continue to follow the unfolding initiative of the Better Church Governance. 

Note: Follow LifeSite's new Catholic twitter account to stay up to date on all Church-related news. Click here: @LSNCatholic

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