Archbishop Allen Vigneron, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and USCCB president Archbishop José Gomez are pictured in the studio at USCCB headquarters in Washington Nov. 16. CNS photo/courtesy Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield

Bishops, in abuse report’s wake, ponder ‘predator’ prevention

By  Rhina Guidos, Catholic News Service
  • November 18, 2020

WASHINGTON -- The recently released report on former cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, describing his ascent to highest rungs of the Church, even amid rumours of abuse, reads like a list of the seven deadly sins, a bishop told the U.S. Conference Catholic Bishops’ fall assembly.

“Lust, greed, gluttony, wrath, sloth, envy, pride — pretty much the report covers all of them,” Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, said Nov. 16 during an online session to discuss the report released by the Vatican Nov. 10.

It was the first time the U.S. prelates as a group discussed the findings of the investigation of one its own after its long-awaited release.

“I think we need to, really, as pastors acknowledge that we’re all sinners and we’re all called away from sin,” but the report shows sometimes pastors and others can turn a blind eye to sin, Strickland said.

In 460 pages, the report showed how laity, seminarians and even prelates over decades made an effort to call the attention of the Church’s hierarchy to incidences of abuse on the part of McCarrick.

The report details how one mother said she wrote several letters to Church leaders about her misgivings and how McCarrick touched her sons; seminarians and young priests said they told bishops about inappropriate touching and sexual incidents instigated by McCarrick; and even a past archbishop of New York, Cardinal John J. O’Connor, wrote a lengthy letter to the papal nuncio about McCarrick sharing the same bed with younger men.

“It’s very clear that there’s still very much a tendency in the world and in the Church to turn a blind eye to many of these sins,” said Strickland of McCarrick, now laicized and whose whereabouts are not publicly known since he left a Capuchin friary in Kansas earlier this year.  

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, thanked survivor James Grein for coming forward with his account of abuse at the hands of the former cardinal.

“It’s curious to wonder what McCarrick would be doing today if he (Grein) had not come forward,” Olson said.

Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, Wis., said that given how the report described the way McCarrick operated at various levels, with the laity, with the hierarchy and among dioceses, it would be of great service to know and understand the personality traits and activities of a person like McCarrick — “predators” — so that prelates might be able to spot them and prevent similar incidents.

“Very often they are highly manipulative, very attractive to people. Successful, if you want to put it that way, use all kinds of methods to groom young people into very dangerous situations and then they take advantage of them,” Ricken said.

Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., said that even though there’s a secret process to decide who will become a bishop, that perhaps when a determination about that person is made, the name of the person being considered should be made known public for a period.

“To me, it will be helpful to avoid future problems if that name be made known, that name be published ... in a time frame of a 30 or 60 days for people to comment,” Brennan said. “You might well surface things at that time that would affirm the appointment ... or a deterrent to say that this is not a good idea.”

Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin said it was important to also address “what has been done since the terrible revelations” in the summer of 2018.

“I think it’s worthwhile because we’ve invested a lot in these measures and I’m referring first to the International Conference on Clerical Sex Abuse with an emphasis on episcopal responsibility that took place in February of 2019,” he said. “I think it would be ungrateful of us not to recognize ... what has been done and also for people to know about the 800-number available.”

The Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service has established (800) 276-1562 and for the public to make reports regarding sexual abuse involving bishops.

Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich said Pope Francis had taken historic action in issuing the document as well as other unprecedented measures.

“The report mandated by the Holy Father was historic and so were his initiatives and we have structures in place now to move forward and we should pay attention to that, but also doing it in a way that’s in unity and with respecting collegiality with him,” the cardinal said.

“We have to make sure that we never again have a situation where anyone from our conference is taking sides in this, with the Holy Father or challenging him or even being with those who are calling for his resignation. That kind of thing really has to cease, and the Holy Father pointed the way in which we take up this initiative together in a collegial manner.”

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