U.S. Catholics Want Action After Report Details Decades Of Child Sexual Abuse
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There's a big international conference in the Catholic Church starting today in Ireland. It's called the World Meeting of Families. Pope Francis will be there later this week. But one prominent speaker has decided to drop out, Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. Wuerl has been accused of covering up the latest clergy sex abuse crisis in the U.S. His name appears hundreds of times in a report put out by a grand jury in Pennsylvania last week. The report says pedophile clergy abused more than 1,000 children, and the church kept it under wraps for decades.
Yesterday, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, vowing that there would be no more cover-ups - the right words, but Catholics want action. John Allen is an editor for Crux magazine, a Catholic publication that covers the Vatican and the church. And he is in Dublin right now getting ready for this conference and the pope's visit.
Hi, John. Thanks for being here.
JOHN ALLEN: Good morning, Rachel. Glad to do it.
MARTIN: You've been covering the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church for more than 20 years now, which I imagine, in and of itself, is difficult to wrap your head around. But I wonder if you could gauge for us how this moment is different. Is it different? How are Catholics, the lay people sitting in the pews - how are they coping?
ALLEN: Well, Rachel, I think it is different precisely because 20 years have passed since the crisis first erupted in the United States in Boston in 2002. I mean, there had been tremors before that. And of course, in the country that I'm in, Ireland, this country's crisis erupted in its full form in 2009. So it's been living with it for a decade. And what I think, honestly, is that when those initial eruptions occurred, there were many Catholics who were horrified, who were appalled by the discoveries but who were inclined to trust and believe the assurances of repentance and reform that were given to them by those in charge.
Now, 10 years later, many of those same people - and I'm talking now about faithful, Mass-going, committed Catholics - are just experiencing not only a fresh cycle of horror, but I think they are also experiencing some fatigue, deep frustration and I sense, I have to say, mounting anger that this problem has not yet been solved.
MARTIN: So let's look more closely at Pope Francis and his role right now. I mean, he appears to be saying the right things. He has admitted that there has been a cover-up, which is in and of itself a relief to many Catholics to just hear him say that. He is showing great empathy for the victims and their families. But that is clearly not enough. I mean, what action do Catholics want the church to take right now?
ALLEN: Well, I mean, certainly, if you were to survey the Irish media and just comments on the street here in Dublin today as one test case, it is clear that for victims, survivors, their families, their supporters, reformers in the church, it has been clear for some time that the largest single piece of unfinished business in terms of the church's response to the scandals is accountability - and not accountability for the crime but accountability for the cover-up.
The church has adopted strong measures of accountability for clergy who sexually abuse children. I mean, we saw just recently that that applies even to a cardinal in the form of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was forced to exit the College of Cardinals in disgrace because of accusations that he had sexually abused a minor. What the church does not yet have is a similarly strong measure of accountability for bishops and other officials who cover up those crimes. I mean, that of course is part of the...
MARTIN: This is Donald Wuerl right now.
ALLEN: ...Indictment against Cardinal Wuerl - exactly...
ALLEN: ...That while he was the bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006, there were at least three instances in which the grand jury alleges he was aware of accusations of sexual abuse against one of his clergy and did not take action against that priest and did not report that priest to the police or other civil authorities. And the problem is that the church has no procedure for evaluating these cases, for imposing sanctions when necessary and for doing so transparently.
ALLEN: That, to answer your question, Rachel, is what people want from Pope Francis.
MARTIN: I mean, we should also point out - he is close with Pope Francis, the archbishop.
ALLEN: Yeah. Cardinal Wuerl has been a close ally of Pope Francis from the beginning. He was part of a drafting team for, arguably, the most important document of Francis' papacy, a 2016 document called "The Joy Of The Family (ph)" And he has been a key supporter of Pope Francis in the American church. Now, that said, the problem at the moment is that, to be honest with you, none of that matters. What matters is that Cardinal Wuerl has directly and by a grand jury been accused of complicity in covering up sex abuse crimes.
Now, he has vigorously disputed those charges. And of course, he deserves his day in court. But I think what people - you asked, you know, what action do people want? I think what people want is a credible answer from Pope Francis and his Vatican team to the question of, when a bishop is accused of covering up child abuse, how do we hold him accountable?
MARTIN: So you don't know. We don't know what Wuerl's future is going to be. Do you think he keeps his post?
ALLEN: Well, you know, there are two considerations here. I mean, one is - what is he actually guilty of, if anything? That's sort of a forensic question that has to be settled by an investigation. But the other is the question of the moral capacity to lead. And the question is, having been this badly tainted...
ALLEN: ...By association with this scandal, you know...
MARTIN: How does he move forward?
ALLEN: ...Can Wuerl actually continue to lead his archdiocese? And that's a decision that I - I don't expect it's going to take very long to get an answer to that question.
MARTIN: So Pope Francis is going to be on the spot. He's going to travel to Ireland. He's going to make remarks. What can you expect? What do you anticipate his message will be?
ALLEN: I think that if Pope Francis comes to Ireland on Saturday and he does not have a credible and convincing answer to the question of, how are we going to hold bishops who cover up sex abuse - how are we going to hold them accountable? - then there is going to be enormous disappointment in this country. And I think that will ripple out across the Catholic world.
MARTIN: John Allen is editor of the Catholic online magazine Crux.
John, thanks so much for being here and sharing your thoughts on this.
ALLEN: You're very welcome.
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