Editorial: As Child Sex-abuse Scandal Escalates, the Catholic Church Is Now at War with Itself

Dallas Morning News
August 30, 2018

Louis D. Brandeis wrote his often-quoted line about the power and necessity of transparency in 1913, three years before becoming a U.S. Supreme Court justice. A fearless proponent of social justice, he was writing about corruption and the concentration of power in the investment banking world at the time.

But he might just as well have been writing about the crisis the Catholic Church is in after a Pennsylvania grand jury released a 900-page report identifying 301 “predator priests” who sexually abused more than 1,000 children since the 1940s.

As we noted in our editorial Sunday, the grand jury said the tactics used by Catholic deacons, priests and bishops to cover up seven decades of abuse amounted to “a playbook for concealing the truth.” In a letter to all Catholics, Pope Francis called the clerical abuse in Pennsylvania “crimes” and “atrocities.”

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Since that editorial published, there have been explosive new allegations from within the church accusing Francis of turning a blind eye to reports of decades of sexual abuse of minors and adult seminarians by Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C. McCarrick resigned last month after the church deemed the allegations “credible and substantiated.”

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador to the U.S., released a statement claiming that Francis “knew from at least June 23, 2013, that McCarrick was a serial predator” and “covered for him to the bitter end.” Vigano then called on the pope to “acknowledge his mistakes” and “be the first to set a good example for cardinals and bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them.”

While we certainly believe that any claims against Pope Francis, as with McCarrick and any other Catholic clergy accused of abuse or its cover-up, should be thoroughly investigated, we also encourage readers to consider the source. Archbishop Vigano may be a classic whistleblower. But he is also a disgruntled Vatican employee, a conservative from a wealthy Italian family who was reportedly furious over his transfer to the U.S. from Vatican City in 2011.

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Vigano has been outspoken in opposing Pope Francis’ more liberal stance on homosexuality. Much of his statement is dedicated to blaming the church’s seemingly unending child sex-abuse scandals in the U.S., Chile, Ireland and elsewhere on “homosexual networks, which are now widespread in many dioceses, seminaries, religious orders” that “act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire Church.”

Vigano and other conservatives also have clashed with Francis over the pope’s emphasis on “clericalism” — the clergy’s devotion to power and careerism above the flock they tend — as the root of many evils within the church, including sexual abuse. As Francis said in 2016, “Clerics feel they are superior, they are far from the people; they have no time to hear the poor, the suffering, prisoners, the sick.”

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At the heart of this civil war is the traditional role of celibacy within the church and whether homosexuality or abstinence has led to priestly abuse of the most vulnerable. Liberals see a greater acceptance of human sexuality — whether a cleric identifies as straight or gay — as key to a more humane Catholic Church. Some even argue that clerics should be allowed to marry. Conservatives view homosexuality as a sin and the vows of celibacy as fundamental to the priesthood and nunhood.

Clearly, what’s most important in all this is tending the wounds of those abused by the Catholic Church, and whose testimonies were discounted or contradicted by priests, bishops and cardinals — and perhaps even the pope. But to these wounds we can now add a church at war with itself, and the suffering of believers caught in the middle. These wounds will fester and spread, unless — as Louis Brandeis understood — a bright light is shone on them and their ugly causes.

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