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Cardinal Blase Cupich at 2018 Vatican Synod briefingDiane Montagna/LifeSiteNews

ROME, November 23, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis has named Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago to a four-member organizing committee for next February’s Vatican summit on clerical sexual abuse.

The appointment is raising concerns because Cardinal Cupich has notably dismissed Archbishop Viganò’s testimony on the McCarrick abuse cover-up as a mere “rabbit hole” distracting the Church, believes that homosexuality is not a significant contributing factor in the abuse of minors (despite statistics showing otherwise), and has defended the Vatican postponing U.S. bishops from voting on measures to prevent abuse cover-up.

The organizing committee

According to a statement released by the Vatican on Friday, the organizing committee is composed of two cardinals and two experts in the field of sexual abuse. In addition to Cardinal Cupich, the Pope has also appointed as members of the organizing committee for the February 21-24 meeting: Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, India; Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta; and Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, President of the Centre for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University.    

Archbishop Scicluna is widely regarded as an abuse investigator on behalf of the Holy See. In 2002, the Maltese monsignor was appointed by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) as the chief prosecutor in handling cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. In 2005, Ratzinger sent Scicluna to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr. Maciel Degollado, which ultimately led to his conviction and removal from public ministry.

Last February, Pope Francis sent Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to investigate allegations that Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno had covered up sexual abuse by the country’s most notorious pedophile priest. The investigation resulted in Pope Francis accepting Bishop Barros’ resignation. Pope Francis recently appointed Scicluna as the adjunct secretary of the CDF, effectively making him the number two of the Vatican dicastery responsible for handling cases of sex abuse against minors committed by clergy.

Yet Scicluna also endorsed the liberal “Maltese guidelines” that interpret Amoris Laetitia to allow Communion for unrepentant remarried divorcees.

Fr. Zollner, who serves as a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and who is described by sources as “serious about the abuse crisis,” will be the contact person for the committee, the statement said.

In September, Pope Francis called for the February meeting of presidents from over 100 national bishops’ conferences to discuss how to protect “minors and vulnerable adults” from abuse. 

The announcement of the unprecedented meeting came in the wake of a series of revelations of sexual abuse and cover-up in various parts of the world, including in Chile, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. It also follows reports of the Pope’s own alleged involvement (as archbishop of Buenos Aires) in multiple cover-ups of predator priests in South America, including the high-profile case of Fr. Julio Grassi, a priest famous in Argentina for his work with the poor and orphaned children, who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for sexually abusing minors.  

The February meeting is also being held in the wake of revelations that some bishops, most notably former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, have either been involved in sexual abuse or its cover-up. The meeting is also taking place against the backdrop of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s extraordinary 11-page testimony last August, alleging that he personally informed Pope Francis in 2013 about the McCarrick abuse and sanctions imposed on him by Pope Benedict. Despite this, he said, the Pope revived McCarrick’s influence in the Church. In his testimony, Archbishop Viganò also claimed that Cardinal Cupich owes his red hat to Theodore McCarrick.

Pope Francis has not directly addressed Archbishop Viganò’s claims, but last month the Vatican announced that a “thorough study” would be conducted of all documentation contained in the Vatican archives in order to “ascertain all the relevant facts” surrounding the case of Theodore McCarrick.

The Vatican announced on Friday that Pope Francis “will be present” at the meeting, adding that those taking part in the meeting, in addition to presidents of the bishops’ conferences, include theheads of the Oriental [Eastern Rite] Catholic Churches; “superiors” of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State; “prefects” of various congregations and dicasteries (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Oriental Churches, Bishops, the Evangelization of Peoples, Clergy, Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life; and of the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life); and “representatives” of the Union of Superiors General and of the International Union of Superiors General.

Yesterday, the Union of Superiors General (USG), a forum for the leaders of male religious orders to reflect on issues facing religious life, elected Jesuit Superior General Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J. as its president, all but guaranteeing his presence at February summit. In a February 2017 interview, Fr. Sosa said that “no one had a recorder to take down [Jesus’] words” about the indissolubility of marriage, and that priority must be given to “personal conscience” in deciding how the Lord’s words are to be interpreted. 

The organizing team will be helped in the preparatory work for the meeting by several members of the laity, including two lay women who serve as under-secretaries for the dicastery of Laity, the Family and Life: Gabriella Gambino and Linda Ghisoni. Today’s statement also noted that the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, headed by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, as well as “victims of abuse” by members of the clergy, will have a key role in planning the February meeting.

In comments to the media today, Holy See Press Office Director Greg Burke said the meeting is “unprecendented” and shows Pope Francis “has made the protection of minors a fundamental priority for the Church.”

“This is about keeping children safe from harm worldwide,” he said. “Pope Francis wants Church leaders to have a full understanding of the devastating impact that clerical sexual abuse has on victims.”

Burke added that the meeting “is primarily one for bishops – and they have much of the responsibility for this grave problem,” but that “lay men and women who are experts in the field of abuse will give their input, and can help address especially what needs to done to ensure transparency and accountability.”

What to expect

In an interview on Friday, Fr. Zollner said the February summit will be “very important for the Church” and that the organizing committee will be in charge of both “logistics and content, according to the directions given by the Holy Father.” Zollber also repeatedly stressed the importance of the “synodal dimension” of the meeting.

He said the committee will be “sending a questionnaire to those invited to participate,” adding that “it is important that there be a sharing of experiences, of the difficulties as well as of the possible solutions to address this terrible scandal.” The Pontifical Commission will play a significant role in the preparation of the meeting which will also reflect the Pope’s emphasis on synodality and collegiality, he said.

The German Jesuit said this “consultative” phase is essential, and that the the meeting should be “as free and fruitful as possible.”

Zollner also said Pope Francis is “convinced” that the “sacrilege” of abuse is “a problem that does not pertain to a single country, and certainly not only to western countries.” It is a problem, he said, that “does not regard the Church only, but many different sectors: schools, sports, the family. It requires a firm and universal response, within specific contexts and cultures.”

Speaking to the Chicago Catholic earlier in November, Cardinal Cupich said he believed the meeting will be a “watershed moment in the life of the Church” and that “time and again” the Pope “has shown his resolve to comprehensively address this scourge.” 

The archbishop of Chicago, who, like the Holy Father, has frequently blamed the crisis primarily on “clericalism,” said Francis is “calling for radical reform in the life of the Church, for he understands that this crisis is about the abuse of power and a culture of protection and privilege, which have created a climate of secrecy, without accountability for misdeeds.” 

“All of that has to end, not only in terms of how it risks the safety of children, but also how the abuse of power by certain leaders undermines the Gospel and injures the faith lives of the people the ordained have been sent to serve,” Cardinal Cupich said. 

Yet a number of key observers wonder how effective the February meeting will be. In recent comments on the upcoming summit, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke told LifeSite:“The fact of the matter is that the Church has a disciple in place which she’s had in place for centuries, for dealing with these kinds of crimes, these kinds of grievous sins. They didn’t just come into being in our time.” 

“What needs to be done is the Church’s discipline with regard to ecclesiastical crimes and their just punishment has to be studied once again and made accessible and it has to be applied,” Cardinal Burke said. “Now they come with all kinds of theories, that it’s clericalism that’s causes priests to abuse children … Whoever talks about the fact that these are grievous sins. This is lust and it cannot be, in the sacred ministry, and we need to root it out. And especially this has to be made clear that most of these sinful acts are homosexual acts.” 

Speaking to LifeSite in October, Capuchin Fr. Thomas Weinandy, a former executive director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Doctrine who penned an open letter to Pope Francis last year, said he isn’t sure what to think about the February meeting. 

But Fr. Weinandy added: “What I do know is that if the bishops focus on clericalism, you then know it’s not going to amount to much. If they actually take up the major problem in the Church, that of active homosexuality among the clergy and bishops, then you know they’re serious. But if they hide behind clericalism, you know they’re not serious. If they’re actually willing to take up the topic of homosexually active priests and bishops, you know they’re serious.”