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Analysis: Abuse summit ends with more questions than answers

It seemed that in the summit organizers’ final face-to-face with reporters, writes Hannah Brockhaus, the response to the only direct accusation that Francis covered up abuse was also the most clumsy and ill-prepared of the week.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Pope Francis, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago and television reporter Valentina Alazraki of Televisa are pictured during the third-day of a meeting on the protection of minors in the church at the Vatican Feb. 23, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Vatican City, Mar 1, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- There was a moment during the final press conference of this month’s Vatican abuse summit that, for many observers, symbolizes a theme that ran throughout the meeting.

Asked by a journalist about the case of Argentinian Bishop Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta, Archbishop Charles Scicluna said he would to decline to comment, as he had done when asked earlier in the week about other abuse cases.

“About the case, I’m not, I’m not, you know, authorized– I mean, yeah,” the Maltese archbishop said.

He was interrupted quickly by the Holy See’s interim press office director, Alessandro Gisotti, who insisted, not for the first time, that media ask questions only about general principles, not specific cases.

Zanchetta, 54, was reported to the Vatican in 2015 and 2017 for having sexually explicit images on his cellphone, and for sexual abuse of seminarians. Pope Francis appointed the bishop to a Vatican position in late 2017, after Zanchetta resigned from his diocese.

The Vatican has twice insisted it knew nothing about abuse reports against Zanchetta until the fall of 2018, though media investigations suggest that Pope Francis knew about the allegations in 2015 and gave Zanchetta a Vatican job anyway.

The Vatican said in January it is investigating Zanchetta, which Gisotti repeated Feb. 24.

Scicluna concluded the discussion that day by saying: “My take would be, because I’m not, I don’t have information about the case you mentioned, but if it’s investigating, somebody’s investigating a case, they’re not covering it up.”

It was, for many journalists, a dissatisfying answer. In sum, it seemed that in the summit organizers’ final face-to-face with reporters, the response to the only direct accusation that Francis covered up abuse was also the most clumsy and ill-prepared of the week.

But confusion about what was being discussed, and what could be asked, was a feature for most of the Vatican summit.

Forum for accountability

In October 2018, just days into the nearly month-long synod on young people, Archbishop Charles Scicluna told Catholics not to expect the synod to provide answers on the abuse crisis, but to wait for the global summit of bishops in February.

He also said that the synod fathers were not just listening to young people inside the synod hall, but to those outside of it, and acknowledged that “there is a greater expectation for more accountability” on the topic of sexual abuse.

Scicluna suggested the expectation of accountability would be met in February, during the special summit on the sexual abuse crisis convened by Pope Francis.

That summit “is going to be the best forum for this question [of accountability],” he said.

That summit took place last week.

Journalists hoped to get answers during the summit, to their own questions and to those asked by victims and others. But, during their regular press conferences, the summit’s organizers seemed to tell journalists often that they were not asking the right questions.

Questions about the role homosexuality plays in abuse, for example, were shot down quickly by Scicluna as an unhelpful and irrelevant categorization, when, he said, focus should instead be on “single cases.”

But Gisotti told media in the run-up to the summit that bishops would not be fielding any questions about individual priests’ and bishops’ cases during the four-day conference.

Journalists were left wondering which was true.

Much of the talk, ultimately, focused on general principles of child protection and the abuse of minors, not on bishops’ accountability — with final suggestions ranging from handbooks and new guidelines to amending the use of the pontifical secret and creating a new department in the Roman Curia.

Questions from victims

Meanwhile, outside of the synod hall, dozens of victims, many of whom had travelled from outside Italy to be there, were insistent that they wanted to see the Vatican take an immediate zero-tolerance approach to abusive clergy and bishops who have covered up, and to release information on abuse cases processed by the CDF.

Though they began the week with the cautious hope of answers, victims’ groups left Rome with more demands than they started with.

When bishops’ accountability did feature in discussion, it came wrapped in the language of “synodality” and “collegiality,” while observers complained that those terms were nebulous, and their intended meaning hard to understand.

What few discernable policy proposals there were seemed, to many, little more than articulations of the principle that bishops should be responsible for holding each other accountable — something widely noted to have been lacking in the case of the former cardinal and archbishop Theodore McCarrick.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, for example, re-debuted his so-called “metropolitan model” for bishop accountability, which he first proposed to US bishops in November. Cupich offered the proposal as a way of providing mutual accountability among bishops and advancing the cause of “synodality.”

Yet, he found himself facing immediate — and clearly unwelcome — questions about how his approach would have worked in the case of Theodore McCarrick, who was himself the metropolitan bishop for much of his ministry and supported by suffragan bishops who were at times themselves not above suspicion.

When pressed for details on how cases involving negligent bishops would be handled, Cardinals Sean O’Malley and Cupich pointed to Come una madre amorevole — Pope Francis’ 2016 motu proprio setting out legal mechanisms for reporting and handling complaints against bishops — as existing policy for bishops’ accountability that is only lacking application.

This, despite the pope himself walking back the proposal in August when he said the “so-called tribunal of inquiry on bishops” outlined in Come una madre amorevole had been abandoned because it “wasn’t practical and it also wasn’t convenient for the different cultures of the bishops that had to be judged.”

The results

The Vatican sex abuse summit promised to give victims, Catholics, and journalists answers to their questions about the crisis of clerical sexual abuse and cover-up in the Church.

Instead, during the summit, organizers told them they could not even ask their questions.

Back in October, Scicluna told those losing trust in the Church’s handling of abuse cases to be patient. At the end of the abuse summit, with more questions emerging than answers supplied, at least some journalists, victims, and Catholic are asking: “why is this all taking so long?”

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  1. It came down to two women journalists Diane Montagna LifeSite, Delia Gallagher CNN to raise the actual issue pertinent to this Synod that the attending Bishops declined to address, Clergy including Bishops involved in homosexual abuse of vulnerable priests, seminarians and collaboration to conceal. Responses were indirect and dismissive. A good response to the crisis is given by NYC pastor and canon lawyer Msgr Gerald Murray that National Bishops Conferences institute independent tribunals [presumably with Vatican delegation of authority] to investigate all clergy including Bishops where warranted and present findings to Rome. This has been tried by Cardinal DiNardo and he was flatly refused by the Pontiff as were other like attempts in Am. We’re at an impasse because only the Pontiff has authority to sanction Hierarchy. Investigation limited to priests is insufficient since the enablers are very likely prelates as was the case with McCarrick. There’s the catch 22. The Pontiff was allegedly implicated with McCarrick. And if investigation were limited to priests evidence would lead to Hierarchy. This gives reason for the resolute avoidance by the Pontiff, Archbishop Scicluna, Cardinal Cupich. Hope is a virtue that Robert Royal claims, rather than optimism that “something good may come of this”. Apart from a miracle of divine intervention the wall protecting this intolerable status quo may require a miracle of human intervention based on the demands of Justice. As mercy without repentance offends justice exigent action occasions it.

  2. Thank you Fr Morello. I sit here in tears reading your comment. How can all this be happening? Please, Father, please continue your true and honest comments on this horrible events. The Church NEEDS more priests like you and I will beginning this Sunday including you in my prayers for priests. Recall, that those mentioned in this article were implicated in Archbishop Vigano’s original letter. Thank God for you, Sir, thank God for you!

  3. What was wrong with the Rome sex abuse summit focusing on the clerical sexual abuse of minors only? What was wrong with its refusal to focus on the problem of clerical homosexual fornication between consenting adults? (Particularly where one “consenting” adult is intimidated by the fact that the other has significant power over his entire life, as in McCarrick’s abuse of seminarians.) The basic problem with focusing only on clerical sexual abuse of minors is that it guarantees that the problem of clerical sexual abuse of minors will not be remedied. Let me explain:

    Assume there is a segment of the clergy in a diocese who are homosexual. Some of this group live chastely and are doing a fine job, but have a skeleton or two in their closet from their seminary days regarding homosexual fornication with one or more fellow seminarians, or even with a priest/bishop/cardinal. (I shuddered as I typed that, but that is the reality that the McCarrick affair and other recent revelations have forced us to consider.) Others in this homosexual segment of the diocesan clergy are living a double life; they engage in homosexual fornication with other clerics in the group, or with lay adults, on a regular basis. Among these there are a few clerics who have the inclination to pederasty or pedophilia, and have succumbed to such inclinations and have become active predators.

    Such are the various types of homosexual clerics of which this group consists. They basically know about each other, and in some cases know about one another in the intimate detail provided by hearing the confessions of the others. This group tends to look out for each other and to facilitate the rise to powerful positions of each other in the diocese, especially to positions in the chancery office, where they can more effectively protect each other. It has been this way for decades in our hypothetical diocese.

    With the above scenario in mind, what happens when a complaint is made about Fr. Predator to a member of the diocesan clergy? It is, with pious discretion, reported to the bishop, who, unless he is a blithering idiot, is well aware of the decades-old homosexual network in his diocese. He calls in Fr. Predator for a meeting with him.

    Fr. Predator, who is sociopath like McCarrick, insists on his innocence and wonders aloud about what would happen if he ended up in court and agreed to testify on his own behalf. Would the prosecutor’s questions of him under oath force him to reveal everything he knows about the homosexual network in the diocese? The bishop gets the message. He calls in the lawyers and instructs them to reach a settlement with the family of Fr. Predator’s victim that requires their silence.

    I think the above, or something very much like it, led to the current situation in the Church. If so, a few things can be quickly surmised:

    The laity should report criminal sexual abuse on the part of clerics to the police, not to a member of the diocesan clergy.

    The homosexual networks in the Church, with their mutual support/extortion of each other, will guarantee that the clerical sex abuse problem will never go away until the Church is purged of homosexual networks.

    The involvement of expert laity in the Church’s handling of reports of clerical sexual abuse, unless these lay experts are given enough power, will not be able to overcome the homosexual clerics’ mutual support/extortion system.

    The situation with homosexual clergy described here at the diocesan level, very likely applies at the level of bishops’ conferences and to the Vatican bureaucracy as well.

    Cupich and Bergoglio, with their refusal to acknowledge the homosexual aspect of the clerical sex abuse crisis, have made clear that they have no intention whatsoever of dealing with the problem realistically.

    The power of the mutual support/extortion system of the homosexual network in the Church is immense.

  4. What I find the most frustrating is the combination of the abuse of children with the homosexual activity within the seminaries. They are two separate issues, although related in some ways. The abuse issue is, to me, far more serious. The homosexuality within the seminaries and the blatant disregard for the vow of celibacy needs to be addressed. The abuse, I hope, has been stopped and as far as I know all these cases popping up are from the past…but the other activities (which, in my opinion, are not abuse) …not so sure.

    • I can assure you that some seminaries in the U.S. have reformed and the gay subculture no longer thrives in them. Much depends on the Rector and whether the Ordinary supports him running a clean operation that tolerates no sexual impropriety. The safest seminaries are those that not only provide sexual harrassment prevention workshops but also allow the trainer(s) to address the relevance of homosexuality and neyworks to the crisis in the Church (versus reducing everything to just clericalism) PLUS have an updated policy that protects those who report transgressions in good faith, especially if a predator has used manipulative control tactics(e.g., threatened or implied blackmail).

  5. Our Catholic Church hierarchy: Massive power with little oversight and little consequence.

    Reminds me of arguably the biggest criminal coverup of our time. It might render McCarrick’s atrocities “manageable”.

    Ordained a priest of the Tehuacan diocese in Mexico in 1970, Rev. Nicolas Aguilar-Rivera was sent to the U.S. archdiocese of Los Angeles in March 1987 in an agreement between LA Cardinal Roger Mahony and Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera . Father Aguilar-Rivera had sexually abused at least 26 children from both Los Angeles parishes during his short nine months in the archdiocese. He is said to have abused at least 60 Mexican children, both before and after his stay in California. Amazingly, a California judge has ruled that Mexico Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who leads the world’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese, won’t face trial in the United States on allegations that he covered up the actions of a pedophile priest. One Mexican accuser, Joaquin Aguilar Mendez, alleged that Rivera and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony conspired to cover up the actions of the pedophile priest in the late 1980s, and that their actions allowed him to remain a practicing priest in Mexico and abuse Aguilar Mendez in 1994. Norberto Rivera is believed to have been one of the five finalists to succeed the late Pope John Paul II, and he remained a potential successor to Pope Benedict XVI. WOW!

    What criminal penalty did each receive?

    Mahony is “retired” and living high in North LA. Fought many lawsuits. No criminal penalty!

    Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera 76 retired last year, with no apparent criminal indictment, almost two decades after he was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II.

    Father Aguilar-Rivera? Escaped the law in 2006.

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