It has been a doozy of a week in the news out of — and into — Rome, and it isn’t even over. Let’s recap the dizzying array of stories since Monday (many of which have ties to older, long-percolating and still-developing ones):
- Announcements of “unprecedented” meetings; promises of responses from underlings to accusations touching the person of the Holy Father, personal reply to which the Holy Father has deemed beneath his dignity;
- Oblique reference in extemporaneous remarks at morning Mass, to the current circumstances in the Church — a * series * of * remarks *, actually, given on each day the Pope has celebrated Mass (quasi-) publicly in the chapel of the Domus — in which he returns with a regularity one could fairly describe as systematic, to the idea that public accusation of wrongdoing — specifically episcopal wrongdoing — is the work of the devil in collaboration with worldly “elites”, undertaken in order to scandalize “the people” whose default disposition is to “love” their bishops, but who may become accomplices of the devil if they are riled up;
- A leaked document out of Germany, detailing thousands of cases of abuse by clerics over several decades;
- The release of a heavily edited and oft-interpolated transcript of a weeks-old private encounter with Irish Jesuits, in which the Pope admits he did not believe the accusations of clerical and episcopal malfeasance that reached him from Chile, until he had seen them documented by a trusty cleric — an admission that quite possibly gives the lie to his January protestations of ignorance — “You, with goodwill, tell me: there are victims [of Bishop Barros, or of the alleged coverup of Bishop Barros],” he told reporters en route to Rome from Perú in January. “But I have not seen them because they have not come to me,” he continued, in an extension that now forces upon us the question, “Which is it?” — and an assertion that the real problem is “elitism” in the Church — an assertion which, because of the timing of the thing, could appear to mitigate his statements at Mass this week, but actually aggravate the already awful character of his position when read chronologically;
- The announcement that the embattled Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, DC — who was shocked — shocked! — to learn his predecessor, Theodore Edgar “Uncle Ted” McCarrick, had sexually assaulted children, and in more than three decades had never heard a whisper of his other perverse proclivities (though nearly everyone except Wuerl and the other leading members of the US hierarchy apparently had), will travel to Rome “in the near future” to convince the pope to accept his resignation, which has been sitting on the pope’s desk for three years;
- The forced resignation of a 57-year-old Brazilian bishop in connection with his arrest — in March of this year — on charges of embezzlement to the tune of more than $600,000;
- Confirmation — after whispers in the Italian press — of a months-old, papally-ordered investigation into financial irregularity at the Sistine Chapel Choir;
- The resignation, five days after he was required to submit his resignation for limits of age, of one US bishop with a reputation for luxury and perverse lasciviousness — Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston (emeritus) — and the announcement of an ecclesiastical investigation into allegations against Bransfield of sexual misconduct with adults (the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which has the Diocese of Wheeling Charleston in ecclesiastical receivership on Papal mandate, informs CWR that the inquest will be “lay-led” — oh, and there is a hotline: 1-833-272-4225).
That, in roughly chronological order, gets us to about noon on Thursday, September 13th, 2018 — the hour at which a meeting of Pope Francis and the leadership of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops was scheduled to begin. It’s been rough going for those men, too:
- USCCB President, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston (news broke Wednesday of a seriously mishandled clerical abuse case in his diocese, and partly on his watch);
- USCCB Vice-President José Gomez of Los Angeles (who tried to keep his negligent predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, out of public ministry, but couldn’t, because only the Pope can discipline cardinals);
- USCCB General Secretary, Msgr. Brian Bransfield of Philadelphia (apparently a relative of the emeritus bishop of Wheeling-Charleston).
Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop Gomez, and Msgr. Bransfield were joined by the President of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., of Boston:
- Cardinal O’Malley has promised to do better, after admitting he ignored a 2015 letter from Fr. Boniface Ramsey, OP, regarding McCarrick, but still has not explained what happened to another 2015 letter from victim-advocate Juan Carlos Cruz;
- Cruz’s letter detailed the abuse he suffered at the hands of the disgraced Chilean former celebrity priest, Fernando Karadima, and explained the roles of Cardinals Francisco Errazuriz and Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago de Chile, and the former bishop of Osorno, Juan Barros — one of Karadima’s protégés — in the coverup of Karadima’s predations, a coverup in which other reports also implicated the apostolic nuncio to Chile, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo.
A statement from the USCCB described the meeting as “lengthy, fruitful and good,” but offered no details and strongly suggested no decisions had been taken. “We look forward to actively continuing our discernment together,” the statement said, “identifying the most effective next steps.”
The USCCB statement also said Francis “listened very deeply, from the heart.” Apparently, Francis could not bring himself to authorize an investigation into the role in the Church of the man, who is credibly alleged — quite apart from the “testimony” of the former nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò — to have corrupted and abused seminarians and priests, and raped children — and who cannot be trusted not to have agents and sympathizers within the US Church hierarchy and clerical ranks.
The now-embattled USCCB president, Cardinal DiNardo, called for a Vatican investigation into the McCarrick debacle — and presumably into related questions — on August 16th, and repeated his call on August 27th, in concert with the Executive Committee of the Conference. In both statements, Cardinal DiNardo announced his intention to bring the issues to the Holy Father, in person. The Vatican only announced the pope’s meeting with the USCCB leadership two days ago.
The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, however, did release this photograph, which was taken at the meeting:
One ought to be glad they’re all able to see the lighter side of all this, even if the mirth eludes the rest of us.