Pope Francis attends his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Sept. 5. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Editorial: We need answers

  • September 6, 2018

“When a bit of time has passed,” said Pope Francis, perhaps he would answer serious allegations that he permitted a cardinal cited for sexual abuse to return to public ministry.

He made that comment Aug. 26 during an in-flight press conference from Dublin to Rome. He asked people to read the accusations carefully and judge for themselves, and suggested journalists use their professional abilities to sort fact from fiction. He somewhat implied his innocence but said he wouldn’t “speak a single word on this.” 

Many days later, the painful process of public reflection has been completed. It has been ugly. Sides have been taken, allegations hurled, reputations tainted. The Church itself is deeply wounded. And the truth remains unknown. 

The silence from the Vatican has created a vacuum that has been filled with harmful conjecture and innuendo. It has fuelled an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust and further weakened the moral authority of Church leadership. To many, the silence suggests a hierarchy with something to hide and reinforces a perception of Church leaders who lack respect for ordinary Catholics, providing evidence of the clericalism Pope Francis so often decries.

The bit of time requested by the Pope has passed, painfully. Now for the sake of a bleeding Church, Francis should address the issue. Did he look the other way after learning that then-cardinal Theodore McCarrick was implicated in a sex-abuse scandal? 

When the question was put to him directly, the Pope, uncharacteristically, deflected rather than respond. Fair enough. Archbishop Carol Maria Viganò, who made the unsubstantiated claim, has many supporters but he is not universally respected. He was removed by Pope Benedict from the Vatican curia, has criticized the Francis papacy, has sparred with the Pope and faced his own allegations of covering up abuse by an American archbishop. 

Various reports paint him as an ambitious man who is bitter about being passed over to become a cardinal. So, as an  American cardinal put it, the Pope wisely sidestepped the rabbit hole of Viganò’s uncorroborated allegations during a press conference about an apostolic visit to Ireland.

But now the faithful deserve to know the truth. No more silence, deflection or ambiguity. Did Pope Francis learn about McCarrick’s sexual misconduct five years ago and, more than just stay silent, permit McCarrick to maintain a public ministry, as claimed by Viganò?

It’s difficult to imagine that is what happened but, if so, the Pope needs to explain why McCarrick was restored and then trust Catholics to accept that Francis was motivated by mercy or some other plausible justification. If Viganò is being untruthful, then the Pope has to refute the claims convincingly and demonstrate why they are without merit.

A bit of time has passed. Now it’s time for answers.

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