The Pope’s meeting in February 2019 should focus on the Archbishop Vigano allegations and not on child sexual abuse

The Church is once again embroiled in a sexual abuse crisis which seemingly never goes away. Multiple recent events have combined to make it appear that a recalcitrant Catholic Church has still not gotten the message. The Pennsylvania grand jury report gives the impression that child sexual abuse in the U. S. Catholic Church is still in full swing and that the Church’s response has been inadequate at best. [1] Grand juries in other states are reportedly conducting investigations as well. [2] Following CardinalMcCarrick’s resignation in July, [3] the letter of Archbishop Vigano amplified and expanded the controversy, by making detailed allegations that the hierarchy including the Pope protected McCarrick, and by asserting that there are homosexual networks of clergy within the Church which are actively attempting to undermine the Church’s doctrine and teaching. [4] Adding fuel to the fire is the recent resignation of Bishop Bransfield of West Virginia and the Pope’s authorization of an investigation into sexual harassment allegations by that bishop. [5] On September 19th, the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced new initiatives taken to address sexual abuse by bishops.[6] All of this has become mixed into one big swirling pot of trouble, with the Pope initially refusing to respond to questions about the Vigano letter, [7] but later deciding to hold a meeting in February with the presidents of the worldwide bishops conferences to discuss sex abuse prevention. [8] On October 6th, the Pope ordered a new study “of all the documentation contained in the Vatican archives in order to ‘ascertain all therelevant facts’ surrounding the ex-cardinal.” [9] On October 12th, the Pope accepted the resignation of Cardinal Wuerl, named by Archbishop Vigano as participating in the cover-up of abuse by bishops and by the Pennsylvania grand jury report for the same. [10]

This is a complex situation, and the facts here need to be sorted out so that the Church can focus on the key issues. So here are two critically important facts. The child sexual abuse tragedy in the U.S. Church has to a great extent successfully been resolved. The alarms raised by Archbishop Vigano extend well beyond the abuse of children and have not been resolved.

Child Sexual Abuse in the U. S. Catholic Church

In response to the child sexual abuse catastrophe of the late 20th century, the Catholic Church in the United States conducted an extensive effort to find out what happened and what caused it, and to take action to fix it. As far back as 1992, the USCCB recommended five principles providing guidance for dioceses to properly respond to child sexual abuse incidents. [11] The “Charter for theProtection of Children and Young People” (Charter) was first promulgated in 2002, establishing procedures for dealing with child sexual abuse for all US Catholic jurisdictions, and has since been revised three times. [12] The associated “Essential Norms” were decreed to ensure the new procedures were implemented , and constituted “particular law for all the dioceses/eparchies of the United States of America.” [13] A National Review Board (NRB) comprised of Catholic laity was established to oversee the implementation of the Charter, and Review Boards were required for each diocese and eparchy. [14,15] The NRB commissioned two major studies, which were accomplished by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The first study, “Nature and Scope,” determined the facts about what had happened, and the second, “Causes and Context,” sought to find the causes of the abuse. [16,17] The Nature and Scope study showed that child sexual abuse incidents peaked around 1980, at about 750 per year, and by 2000 had fallen to about 25 per year. [18] The NRB instituted annual audits to ensure accountability which continue to this day, the 15th of which was published in May of this year. [19]

I have not seen anyone question the data from the annual audits. According to the audits, the actions taken by the Church have been remarkably successful in maintaining abuse incidents at a low level. The 2017 Audit Report shows that new substantiated incidents of abuse have remained at a low level, less than 10 per year for the last 6 years. [20] Although this record is not perfect, and can still be improved, Father Stravinskas puts it in precise perspective:

“If you want real news, it is that out of over 40,000 priests in this country, last year there were only six allegations (with four of them against the same priest), again, I stress “accusations.” The NewYork City public school system gets that many accusations against its personnel in a month.” [21]

 Althoughthe reforms have not been completely and uniformly implemented in all Church jurisdictions in the United States, and the report cautions against complacency in some areas, the report shows a high level of compliance with the reforms. [22]

Given this overall good recent report by an independent auditor, then why now is there a perception that there has been a sudden re-emergenceof the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in the United States? Much of it must have to do with the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which describes in lurid detail abuse that has already been documented, analyzed, and reported by the Church. The grand jury acknowledges that “We know that the bulk of the discussion in this report concerns events that occurred before the early 2000’s,” [23] and identifies only two new, current cases of abuse in the state of Pennsylvania. [24]

Except for the graphic descriptions of the abuse and other details such as the documentary evidence showing how bishops made decisions to transfer abusing priests, the Pennsylvania grand jury report is not news. The grand jury was clearly advised of the progress that the Church has made, [25] but its report fails completely to acknowledge the scale, scope, and success of the massive endeavor that has been undertaken within the Church to come very close to solving theproblem of child sexual abuse:

“Today we sense some progress is being made. As Father Doyle testified, meaningful change on child abuse has been largely generated by forces external to the church – mostly by media attention and grand jury reports like this one. “[26]

This is inaccurate and counterproductive in that it treats the Church’s response as tentative and in the initial stages when it is actually decades beyond that. Although it took a long time for the Church to fully appreciate the entire scope of the problem, and while the Church certainly did respond to external reports of abuse, there is no question that the Church conducted a concerted and successful campaign to fight the sexual abuse of children by its own clergy over a period of many years. No newspaper, or government, or court forced the Church to respond as it did.

One might ask, then, why has the NRB, a key component of the Church’s successful response, now jumped on the bandwagon of criticism? The NRB statement is puzzling in that it implies that serious wrongdoing by the bishops is a surprise to them:

“We are saddened, angry, and hurt by what we have learned in the past few weeks.”

“What needs to happen is a genuine change in the Church’s culture, specifically among the bishops themselves.” [27]

I find this belated distress about the bishops voiced by the NRB to be somewhat disingenuous. The NRB has known about the complicity of bishops in this scandal for many years now. The John Jay Causes and Context report of 2011, which the NRB commissioned, covered all of this, including the failures by the bishops involved. Page 89 of that report documents “examples of some of the most egregious actions of some bishops and dioceses .. .” [28]

After its statement of dismay, the NRB then proposes methods for holding bishops accountable, including independent review of allegations by the laity (led by the NRB), and the establishment of an anonymous whistleblower policy independent of the hierarchy . They also want”inclusion of bishops in the Charter.” [29] Although these ideas appear to be rather straightforward, the fact is, as discussed above, that the Church has done quite well in resolving theproblem of child sexual abuse without such measures. It could be that more accountability for bishops would make the Church’s protection of children even better, but it should be recognized that the primary result of making bishops more accountable would be to facilitate the administration of justice against bishops who have engaged in or covered up child sexual abuse.

There is no doubt that the lack of redress for the wrongdoing perpetrated by both priests and bishops is driving much of the current fury. This is a primary focus of the Pennsylvania grand jury report:

“But we are not satisfied by the few charges we can bring, which represent only a tiny percentage of all the child abusers we saw. We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated. This report is our only recourse. We are going to name their names, and describe what they did – both the sex offenders and those who concealed them. We are going to shine a light on their conduct, because that is what the victims deserve. And we are going to make our recommendations for how the laws should change so that maybe no one will have to conduct another inquiry like this one. We hereby exercise our historical and statutory right as grand jurors to inform the public of our findings.” [30]

We will probably not see a common perception that child sexual abuse in the U. S. Catholic Church has been satisfactorily dealt with until there has been a conspicuous application of justice, both canonical and criminal or civil, to the extent possible.

However, this is not necessarily a simple task. As the Pennsylvania grand jury report points out, inadequate laws and the time factor mitigate against successful prosecution. From the Church’s perspective, changes such as those proposed by the NRB would entail significant changes to the administration of the Church, since the discipline of bishops is the province of the Pope or the Congregation for theDoctrine of the Faith. [31,32] In any case, the discipline of bishops should be one of the principal topics dealt with at the papal meeting in February.

It may well be the case that child sexual abuse is a serious problem in other parts of the world, as we have seen, for example, in the case of Chile. [33] The Church would do well to consider implementation of the USCCB model in other countries, but this topic should not be allowed to supplant discussion of the Archbishop Vigano allegations in February.

The Allegations Against Archbishop McCarrick

The other major driving factor in the rekindling of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is the testimony of Archbishop Vigano. Although there have been negative responses to the allegations, such as that from Cardinal Marc Oullet, [34] the allegations have not been convincingly refuted. [35] And, since the allegations were made, several significant actions have been taken, including that February meeting scheduled by the Pope, the USCCB statement supporting a full investigation of McCarrick, [36] and the new study of the McCarrick documentation initiated by the Pope. It seems obvious that there must be something to these allegations.

The problems which Archbishop Vigano has now brought into the global spotlight do not primarily involve children, so his testimony should not be seen as just another iteration of the child sexual abuse scandal. The abuse of which McCarrick is accused is the use of power in the workplace for sexual purposes. This is textbook sexual harassment. The reports regarding West Virginia bishop Michael Bransfield’s resignation and investigation also have to do with sexual harassment. There are two significant considerations here: the dreadful behavior itself, and the accommodation of such behavior by other bishops, allegedly including the Pope himself. The second concern is particularly worrisome, because it implies not simply one or two bad actors, but a culture among the senior leadership of the Church which sanctions grossly immoral behavior by one of their own. If such a corrupt culture does exist, even among the bishops, then that is a daunting problem indeed. How does a 2000-year-old worldwide organization clean its own house, especially if its leadership is part of the problem?

Beyond the question of how to deal with sexual abuse by the clergy lies the matter of homosexuality in the priesthood. Archbishop Vigano believes that homosexuality among priests is the driving factor for child sexual abuse. While that may be the case, it is a case that has not yet been made. As far as I can tell, the whole subject is fraught with difficulty, because even basic definitions, such as what defines a homosexual, are not well understood or universally accepted. Such a disconnect is well illustrated by one of the statements made by Archbishop Vigano regarding the role of homosexuality in child sexual abuse:

“. . . Independent Reports by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004 and 2011 . . .concluded that, in cases of sexual abuse, 81% of the victims were male. In fact, Father Hans Zollner, S.J., Vice-Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, President of the Centre for Child Protection, and Member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, recently told the newspaper La Stampa that ‘in most cases it is a question of homosexual abuse.'” [37]

The disconnect here is that the same John Jay Causes and Context report cited in the quote above, even though it reported this statistic, drew the opposite conclusion: that homosexuals were not a primary causal factor of child sexual abuse, because the number of homosexuals in the priesthood was actually rising during the time period at which abuse incidents were rapidly declining:

“Men who were seminarians during the period of a reported increase in homosexual activity did not go on to abuse minors in any substantial number. ” [38]

That report also makes a critical distinction in the definition of homosexuality which many might find surprising. Homosexuals are defined as those who self-identify as such, and homosexual behavior is not in itself considered sufficient to determine whether a personis a homosexual:

“Because of the large number of sexual abuse victims who were male minors, the role of homosexuality in the abuse of minors by priests has been a notable question. In this context, it is necessary to differentiate between sexual identity and sexual behavior, and questions about sexual identity are complex and difficult to measure. To this end, the data in this investigation were evaluated by considering the sexual behavior of men prior to entering seminary in order to determine whether men who exhibit certain behaviors had a higher likelihood of committing post-ordination sexual behavior. It is important to note that sexual behavior does not necessarily correspond to a particular sexual identity.” [39]

Regardless of whether homosexuality is a causal factor for sexual abuse, active homosexuality among our priests is by far the more critical issue for the Church. As bad as the sexual abuse has been, it has affected a relatively small percentage of the Catholic population. For example, about four percent of all U. S. priests during the period 1950 -2002 were alleged to have commited child sexual abuse. [40] On the other hand, if a significant percentage of the priesthood is comprised of active homosexuals, then large segments of the Catholic population are at risk of being led in their faith by men whom the Church herself considers disordered, and who do not accept the Catholic teaching on human sexuality. Dr. Gerard van den Aardweg’s recent talk in Rome provides detailed perpective on why the acceptance, or as he calls it, “normalization,” of homosexuality is so dangerous for the Church and authentic Christian life. [41]

There is data which supports the existence of a homosexual subculture within the priesthood:

“In a 2002 survey of a national sample of 1,852 Catholic priests by the Los Angeles Times, 44% responded “yes” when asked if there was a “homosexual subculture in your diocese or religious institute”. To the question, “In the seminary you attended, was there a homosexual subculture at the time?” 53% of recently-ordained priests responded“Yes” (reported in Hoge and Wenger, Evolving Visions of thePriesthood, p. 102. Their own concurrent survey yielded 55% “Yes”to the identical question.)” [42]

A similar measure was reported by the John Jay Causes and ContextReport:

“. . . 40 percent of the priests aged thirty-six to fifty-five, who would have been seminarians in the 1980s and 1990s, reported that there was a clear homosexual subculture in the seminaries they had attended.” [43]

If this data is accurate, then that homosexual subculture might well extend to the ranks of the bishops by now. This information conforms to that found in the John Jay Causes and Context report, which reported a significant increase in homosexuals admitted to the seminaries in the U. S. in the 70’s and 80’s. That same proportion of homosexuals can reasonably be expected to have risen to the ranks of the bishops today. So, at least in the United States and among Americans in the Vatican, it is no surprise at all that there could be a significant homosexual subculture among the bishops. Archbishop Vigano names multiple bishops who are supportive of homosexuality and”are in favor of subverting Catholic Doctrine on homosexuality .. .” [44]

Unfortunately,there is no indication from the Vatican that the meeting in February will cover anything beyond sexual abuse, with the theme being”protection of minors.” [45,46] In all likelihood, we can expect that the topic of rampant homosexuality in the Catholic clergy will be religiously avoided. But the Church must confront both the sexual abuse and homosexuality issues. Widespread confusion and disorder about behavior so basic to the Christian life among our spiritual leaders can only be catastrophic for the Church.

References:

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2. Johnson, Matthew and McCausland, Phil. “NY, NJ attorneys general to investigate Catholic dioceses’ handling of abuse.” Nbcnews.  https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-york-ag-subpoenas-state-roman-catholic-dioceses-part-sex-n907151

3. Povoledo, Elisabetta and Otterman, Sharon. “Cardinal Theodore McCarrick Resigns Amid Sexual Abuse Scandal.” Nytimes. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/28/world/europe/cardinal-theodore-mccarrick-resigns.html

 4.Vigano, Carlo Maria. “TESTIMONY of His Excellency Carlo Maria Viganò, Titular Archbishop of Ulpiana, Apostolic Nuncio.”Scribd. https://www.scribd.com/document/387040553/TESTIMONY-of-His-Excellency-Carlo-Maria-Vigano-Titular-Archbishop-of-Ulpiana-Apostolic-Nuncio#from_embed

5. Associated Press. “Pope Authorizes Investigation of West Virginia Bishop, Meets US Delegation.” Newsmax. https://www.newsmax.com/newsfront/pope-francis-michael-bransfield-catholic/2018/09/13/id/881541/

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20. “2017 Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, May 2018, Chart 4-2, page 25.” USCCB:Issues and Action: Child and Youth Protection. http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/2017-Report.pdf

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22. “2017 Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, May 2018, page vi.” USCCB:Issues and Action: Child and Youth Protection. http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/2017-Report.pdf

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31. Altieri, Christopher. “Analysis: Justice by papal fiat points to serious lack of trust within the Church.” Catholicworldreport. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/10/15/analysis-justice-by-papal-fiat-points-to-serious-lack-of-trust-within-the-church/

32. Pattison, Mark. “Church did not foresee crimes by bishops, says canon law professor.” Cruxnow. https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2018/09/07/church-did-not-foresee-crimes-by-bishops-says-canon-law-professor/

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34. Montagna, Diane. “Cardinal Ouellet to Abp. Viganò: your testimony was ‘political’ and ‘extremely reprehensible.’” Lifesitenews. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/cardinal-marc-ouellet-issues-open-letter-to-archbishop-vigano1

35. Condon, Ed. “Viganò & Ouellet: What have we learned about the McCarrick case?” Catholicworldreport. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/10/10/vigan-ouellet-what-have-we-learned-about-the-mccarrick-case/

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38. “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, May 2011, page 38.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

39. “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, May 2011, page 62.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

40. “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, May 2011, page 8.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

41. Mainwaring, Doug. “World renowned expert – Homo-tyranny is upon us in the Catholic Church.” Lifesitenews. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/world-renowned-expert-homo-tyranny-is-upon-us-in-the-catholic-church

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43. “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, May 2011, page 38.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

44.Vigano, Carlo Maria. “TESTIMONY of His Excellency Carlo MariaViganò, Titular Archbishop of Ulpiana, Apostolic Nuncio, page 5.”Scribd. https://www.scribd.com/document/387040553/TESTIMONY-of-His-Excellency-Carlo-Maria-Vigano-Titular-Archbishop-of-Ulpiana-Apostolic-Nuncio#from_embed

45. Brockhaus, Hannah. “Pope Francis convokes world-wide meeting of bishops on abuse crisis.” Catholicnewsagency. https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-convokes-world-wide-meeting-of-bishops-on-abuse-crisis-52898

46. “Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God.” LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD, 20 August 2018. Letters. https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2018/documents/papa-francesco_20180820_lettera-popolo-didio.pdf