Cardinal Cupich, Rabbit Holes, and Lessons from Dante

By Philip Luke Jeffery
Weekly Standard
August 30, 2018

The Francis pontificate has always emphasized the importance of mercy. How will that come into play in the sex abuse scandal?

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s letter accusing Pope Francis of aiding the cover-up of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse of minors and seminarians has put certain Vatican officials on the defensive, and is sparking some revealing reactions. Earlier this week, Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, dismissed calls to investigate Viganò’s claims in an interview on Chicago’s NBC 5, saying “the pope has a bigger agenda, he’s got to get on with other things, of talking about the environment, and protecting migrants, and carrying on the work of the church. We’re not going to go down a rabbit hole on this.”

To paraphrase the pope’s own response to Viganò, “make your own judgment” on Cupich. Maybe the cardinal, who Viganò names in his letter as one of McCarrick’s favorites, is trying to cover his own rear; maybe he genuinely believes that recycling and border bridges are higher priorities than delivering justice for abuse victims and that “carrying on the work of the church” doesn’t include rooting out sin. Maybe some of both. But what stood out weren’t his political preferences or ideas about the church’s duties. It’s that “rabbit hole” remark.

I don’t know how Cupich spends his free time, but I can guess he doesn’t spend it reading his Dante. He might have chosen a different idiom had he called to mind Canto XIX of the Inferno, in which Dante traverses the circle of unrepentant Simonists--corrupt clergymen who leverage their positions in the Church for personal power and financial gain--and notices a field of fire-lit feet sticking up from the ground. All of history’s corrupt bishops, cardinals, and even popes spend eternity stuffed head-first into rabbit holes.

Of course, the Divine Comedy isn’t canon, so there may not be literal rabbit holes in store for corrupt clergy. But any remotely orthodox Catholic is inclined to think Jesus wasn’t kidding all those times he condemned priestly hypocrisy, or when he said any man who took advantage of children would be better off if “a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Point is, one way or another, someone’s going down the rabbit hole. And over the last few weeks, the Catholic laity has voiced its strong preference that the church’s leadership go down it in this life rather than the next. The Francis pontificate has always emphasized the importance of mercy, and if that is to mean anything more than simply letting serious abuse and corruption off the hook (as some Catholic traditionalists fear it might), it will have to mean an immediate and thorough investigation of Viganò’s testimony. Getting everything out in the open now may be the only chance for abusers to face what they’ve done and, free from the pressure to keep up false appearances, repent. If implicated members of the Curia won’t take decisive action out of mercy for the victims, one can wish they’d act in hope of mercy for themselves.


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