Latest Vatican sex scandal is yet another cross for US Catholics to bear

Washington Examiner [Washington D.C.]

November 1, 2023

By Peter Laffin

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose show Life is Worth Living made him an unlikely TV star of the 1950s, liked to tell his audience the following story about corruption within the Catholic Church:

Once there was a man who’d decided to convert to Catholicism. But before he could agree to be baptized, he planned to visit Rome. His parish priest pleaded with him to be baptized first, but the man insisted. The priest was sure he’d never see him again. However, the man returned weeks later more eager to be baptized than before. 

“You’ve been to Rome?” the priest asked. 


“And you’ve seen how things work?”

“I have, and I’m convinced that the Catholic church is the one true church.”

“You are?” 

“Yes. Only a truly divine institution could survive that level of corruption and immorality.”

The story would draw big laughs from crowds of committed Catholics who knew a thing or two about corruption among the ecclesiastics. It also allowed them to chuckle at their own loyalty to an institution that has, in addition to a great many saints, produced some real reprobates in its multimillennial run. But despite it all, despite even the horrors of the priest abuse scandal that rocked the United States at the turn of the century, Catholics (myself included) remain convinced of the church’s legitimacy due to its unbroken apostolic succession and the belief in the power of the sacraments.

However, news out of the Vatican this week is enough to strain the loyalty of even the most impassioned papist. On Wednesday, reports surfaced that the previously excommunicated predator priest Marko Rupnik had been restored to active priesthood in his native Slovenia. The disgraced priest, who is also a highly accomplished mosaic artist and a personal friend of the pope, had been found guilty in a secret Vatican tribunal in 2020 of crimes involving the sexual and psychological torture of at least 20 nuns and one man. In June, it was reported that he had been expelled by his religious order, the Society of Jesus.

But following a September meeting between a key Rupnik ally and the pope, the Diocese of Rome issued a statement that whitewashed the abuse by citing “grave anomalous procedures” in the investigation. This attempt to rehabilitate Rupnik’s reputation was met with shock and horror by his victims , as well as by the wider Catholic world.

In the weeks that followed, more disturbing reports about the pope’s friendship with Rupnik began to circulate, including the pontiff’s decision to have him deliver a homily at an event attended by Francis during the course ofthe excommunication inquiry, as well as the pope’s decision to post a personal video that highlighted Rupnik’s artwork hanging in the Vatican Palace months after the pope had acknowledged the scandal.

But once reports surfaced that Rupnik had been restored to active priesthood, the dam of public opinion broke. In the U.S., where opposition to Francis’s papacy has been building for years as a result of mutual antagonism between the Vatican and traditional American Catholics, the criticism was universal. Even commentators who are loath to criticize the pope in public threw up their hands in disbelief. Acclaimed author Elizabeth Scalia mocked the decision as an “epic fail for synodality” and as another example of the “soul-crippling, church destroying issue of sexual abuse.” Popular radio host Katie Prejean McGrady wrote that the Rupnik affair “dashed a lot of [her] hope in the Church.”

To make matters worse (in a way that only the Catholic Church seems capable), the news of Rupnik’s restoration came on the same day the church released its highly anticipated summary of the Synod on Synodality , which included the following paragraph: “Above all, the Church of our time has the duty to listen, in a spirit of conversion, to those who have been victims of abuse committed by members of the ecclesial body, and to commit herself concretely and structurally to ensuring that this does not happen again.”

Much like the recent declaration that the pope has “zero tolerance” for abuse and that “a priest cannot remain a priest if he is an abuser,” the excerpt was the stuff of parody. Indeed, the institutional church’s callous indifference and brazen hypocrisy in this regard are offenses that cry to heaven.

Moving forward, U.S. Catholics should keep in mind that for each embarrassing scandal, the church, which is the world’s largest nongovernmental provider of health services, builds a thousand hospitals, that for each corrupt cleric, a thousand heroic nuns tend to the needs of the poorest in the shadows across the globe, and that for each demoralizing instance of clericalism similar to the Rupnik affair, a thousand true-hearted evangelists help broken souls turn their hearts to God and their lives around.

Indeed, we have seen the way Rome works, and like the man from Sheen’s story, we must see the miracle in the mess. We must continue to bear the cross of the church in Jesus’s name.


Peter Laffin is a contributor at the Washington Examiner. His work has also appeared in RealClearPolitics, the Catholic Thing, and the National Catholic Register.,20%20nuns%20and%20one%20man.