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US bishops’ silence on meeting with Pope could put their credibility on sex abuse at risk

Diane Montagna Diane Montagna Follow Diane
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ANALYSIS

ROME, September 18, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Have the jocular images and low-key statements of US Bishops following their meeting with Pope Francis last week set back their attempts to address the grave situation in the Church, especially the handling of sexual abuse cases by bishops?

The details that have been revealed of the bishops’ meeting with Francis last Thursday give no indication that they addressed the extent of the McCarrick coverup or the need for an investigation into the troubling allegations against the Pope contained in Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s testimony. 

Given Viganò’s widely accepted character and credibility, Catholics in the U.S. and throughout the world had hoped the U.S. bishops would challenge Francis for an explanation. Instead, their silence on the “elephant in the room” has been troubling to many and risks raising questions about their own credibility.

Readers will recall that, on August 16, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, publicly said that the USCCB Executive Committee had established three goals going into the meeting: (1) an investigation into the questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick; (2) an opening of new and confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops; and (3) advocacy for more effective resolution of future complaints.  

On August 27, following the release of Archbishop Viganò’s explosive testimony implicating Pope Francis and several senior prelates in covering up Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s alleged sexual abuse of seminarians and priests, DiNardo further said that the former U.S. Nuncio’s letter “brings particular focus and urgency to this examination.”

“The questions raised [in the Viganò testimony] deserve answers that are conclusive and based on evidence,” he said. “Without those answers, innocent men may be tainted by false accusation and the guilty may be left to repeat sins of the past.”

Cardinal DiNardo added that he was “eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action.”

Segue to last Thursday. Cardinal DiNardo was joined in his meeting with the Pope by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the USCCB; and Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, general secretary of the conference.

After the meeting in the Apostolic Palace, the Holy See Press Office issued this jocular photo, with no accompanying statement (there has still been no statement):

Given the gravity of the matters being discussed, the photo met with swift backlash, particularly from Catholics in the United States. Respected canonist, Ed Peters, pilloried the photo, tweeting:

Catholic laity were disheartened, Catholic businessmen were disgusted, and U.S. seminarians were concerned about what might happen, LifeSite learned.

Even the Vatican’s own news service didn’t use the photo issued by its own Press Office. “The news department recognized right away that it was the wrong picture to use,” a source in the Vatican told LifeSite. 

Later in the afternoon, Cardinal DiNardo issued a general, low-key statement regarding the meeting on the USCCB website. He said:

We are grateful to the Holy Father for receiving us in audience. We shared with Pope Francis our situation in the United States -- how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse. He listened very deeply from the heart. It was a lengthy, fruitful, and good exchange.

As we departed the audience, we prayed the Angelus together for God’s mercy and strength as we work to heal the wounds. We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together identifying the most effective next steps.

In a follow-up interview with the US Bishops’ Catholic News Service, DiNardo said he was “hopeful,” described the meeting as “fruitful,” and said Pope Francis “sees the problem all over the Church and throughout the world.”

But there was no mention of McCarrick, no reference to an investigation, and not a word about Viganò.

LifeSite contacted Cardinal DiNardo — a prominent bishop in the pro-life movement and one of the signatories of the “13 cardinals letter” to Pope Francis expressing concerns that the 2015 Synod on the Family was being manipulated in an unorthodox direction — to voice readers’ concerns that the photo sent the message that U.S. bishops are not taking the matter seriously.

We also asked His Eminence if he discussed with the Holy Father the proposed investigation into allegations contained in Archbishop Viganò’s testimony, if the Pope spoke of any plan to laicize McCarrick, or if he plans on any sanctions for prelates who are guilty of covering abuse.

“Cardinal DiNardo must respectfully decline the invitation for an interview,” we were told.

LifeSite also contacted the director of the Holy See Press Office to ask why the photo (above) was chosen, and what the Vatican wished to convey by it, but we received no reply. 

Did the Vatican want to send the message that all is well and this is not going to be the showdown that Francis’ critics envisioned? Was someone in the press office purposely putting these photos out to discredit the Pope? Or the U.S. Cardinals? Or are they just incompetent and totally deaf to public opinion? 

Many people think the third scenario is most likely, given past Vatican handling of the media. 

In what came to be known as “Lettergate,” the former head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, Msgr. Dario Viganò (not to be confused with Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò) attempted to shore up the reputation of Pope Francis with a doctored letter from Pope emeritus Benedict. The attempt backfired when the full contents of the letter came to be known and were not as favorable to the pontiff as the Vatican indicated. 

And subsequent to his explosive testimony, Archbishop Viganò issued a statement on what really transpired when Pope Francis met privately with Kim Davis in 2015, alleging that certain members of the Vatican press apparatus were anything but transparent.

Whatever the case, when Cardinal DiNardo initially called for an investigation, he said the USCCB Executive Committee had already begun to develop a “concrete plan” for accomplishing their goals that will be presented “to the full body of bishops in our November meeting.” The autumn assembly should therefore be revealing. In the meantime, however, questions remain as to how much credibility top U.S. bishops have lost, or risk losing, with Catholics by their silence, and how transparent they will be going forward with the souls entrusted to their care. 

 

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