December 28, 2019
By Elizabeth Bruenig
Pope Francis did not have the year he thought he was going to have.
It began this way: marked by sniping about his reform tendencies, especially where Catholic Church teaching on the family is concerned. As the Vatican geared up for its 2018 synod assembly — a meeting of bishops from around the world who gather in Rome to advise the pope on different issues, this year on youth and vocations — talk that the 2014 and 2015 synod meetings on the family had been rigged in favor of a reformist agenda circulated among anti-Francis factions. Perhaps the Francis skeptics assumed they would get to press their case against the pope again when the October synod on youth came to pass. But even they couldn’t have predicted what sort of opportunities would present themselves in the meantime.
There have been plenty of those. Today, Francis’s pontificate wavers in the wake of the explosive reemergence of the sex abuse crisis. His popularity has dropped sharply among Americans at large. And though Catholics’ views of the pope are steadier, the faithful are suffering. The pope has been called upon to resign and likewise advised strongly against it.
Pope Francis has — for the most part, though with notable exceptions — said the right things about the crisis. But saying the right things about it is easy, and despite all the encouraging remarks, Francis has taken little action so far. In February he will convene a worldwide meeting of key bishops in Rome to generate actionable solutions to the disaster facing the church. Will it change anything?
A brief recap: After an investigation led by the Archdiocese of New York found accusations of minor sexual abuse against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick to be credible, McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals and Pope Francis ordered him into a life of prayer and penance, effectively banishing him from public life. A few weeks later, an explosive grand jury report from Pennsylvania revealed the disgusting, almost unthinkable extent of clergy sexual abuse and its coverup in the state, implicating several prelates, including then-archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Roughly a week later, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano released a long testimonial accusing Francis himself of having known of McCarrick’s abuses and permitting him to continue in public ministry anyhow, loosening restrictions placed on him by Pope Benedict XVI in the process.
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