Division in the Church


Convivium, 30 August 2018

In a week that saw Pope Francis accused of covering up squalid sexual scandal, Father Raymond de Souza fears for the unity of the Catholic Church but takes counsel in Ezekiel’s warning of God’s judgement on bad shepherds.

It has been a news week quite unlike any other I have experienced in more than 20 years of Catholic journalism. The “testimony” of the former papal ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, which accuses Pope Francis and others of looking the other way on the predatory behaviour of (now former) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, has created outrage throughout the Church – and great division. 

The sexual abuse is already a public scandal. What I feared coming was the division within the church.

On the substance of the issue, predatory sexual behaviour, both gravely sinful and often criminal, by clergy, that story has accompanied me for my entire priesthood. The major Boston scandals broke in early 2002; I was ordained that summer just before the papal visit to Toronto, and the topic was the dominant one in Catholic news. 

The news of this summer both tells us what we already knew, but is also new. The Pennsylvania grand jury report, which reviewed some 70 years of records, told us little new but did so in stomach-churning detail. Whatever the shortcomings of that report, it did give voice to those who suffered, who otherwise usually remain hidden for understandable reasons. And when a news story, even one as distressing as priestly sexual abuse, has been around a long time, it is possible for the impact to be lessened. The Pennsylvania report did not lack for impact.

But the bigger news story of the summer has been that of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who in June was suspended from all public ministry after a claim that he molested a teenage boy in the early 1970s was found “credible and substantiated” by a lay review board in the Archdiocese of New York. At the same time, it was revealed that there had been settlements in 2005 and 2007 with two men who accused McCarrick of sexual harassment (or worse) while he was a bishop and they were seminarians and priests. He resigned from the College of Cardinals in July, as an increasing number of voices claimed that his predations were widely known but  did not impede his rise in the hierarchy. 

Now the Viganò bombshell claims that Pope Benedict XVI placed some disciplinary restrictions upon McCarrick – which he did not observe – and that Pope Francis lifted those and rehabilitated McCarrick. For that, Viganò says Pope Francis should resign.

What to say about all this? Everything is being said, as the Catholic press has been utterly consumed by it.

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