November 16, 2020
By Joan Vennochi
Putting much of the blame on a dead pope is a convenient outcome for a living one.
Last week’s big headline about Pope Francis concerned the call he made to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden. A 449 page Vatican report, also released last week, presented a less pleasant revelation — that Francis knew of “allegations and rumors” of sexual abuse involving former cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick but didn’t pursue them because he believed others before him had properly vetted the matter.
The report holds Pope John Paul II — who died in 2005 — mostly accountable for McCarrick’s elevation to the top of the church hierarchy, despite decades of explicit warnings about sexual abuse. Francis — who canonized John Paul in 2014 and also launched the Vatican investigation into the McCarrick matter, in 2018 — is essentially let off the hook. In the wake of the findings, the sainthood of John Paul II is being questioned, while Francis is vowing to “eradicate” sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
Putting much of the blame on a dead pope is a convenient outcome for a living one. But what about Francis’s role? Protecting him from shared responsibility, the report draws a line between gossip that he might have heard and confirmed knowledge. Yet the details suggest that he, too, was part of a deliberate blindness that allowed predators like McCarrick to flourish. As Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability, a group that gathers information on clergy abuse, told The Washington Post that Francis’s “lack of curiosity” about the allegations against McCarrick “was at best negligent, at worst corrupt.”
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