The Catholic bishops are gathering in Rome for a synod in a moment in which “the Church faces perhaps its gravest crisis since the Protestant Reformation in the form of the worldwide clerical sexual abuse scandals,” according to veteran Vatican analyst John L. Allen, Jr.
Allen, who heads up the Catholic online news outlet Crux, added that “the eyes of the Catholic world will be on how they choose to engage it.”
Much of this will depend on Pope Francis, since he currently seems to be the Church’s biggest obstacle to tackling the sex abuse crisis head-on. He has repeatedly refused to confirm or deny allegations that he knowingly rehabilitated serial homosexual abuser Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and elevated him to a position of influence in the Vatican.
Moreover, the United States bishops have petitioned the pope to launch an “apostolic visitation” — a full Vatican investigation — into the McCarrick case, which so far has fallen on deaf ears. The president of the U.S. Bishops Conference (USCCB), Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, followed up on the petition by traveling to Rome last month to urge Francis to open the investigation but returned to the U.S. empty-handed.
Wednesday was the opening day of the Vatican Synod of Bishops on youth, and, according to Allen, it may well be “the most significant summit so far on this pope’s watch.”
“The clerical abuse crisis has badly damaged the Church’s moral credibility, made it difficult to move the ball on anything else the Church cares about, and called into question the standing and personal integrity of Church leaders at all levels,” Allen noted.
“Inside the Church and out, there’s a level of anger and disillusionment that’s crippling,” he said.
On August 25, a former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, released an explosive, 11-page report in which he laid out a series of allegations against a number of high-ranking prelates, including Pope Francis.
The central accusation against the pope was that Viganò had personally informed him in 2013 of McCarrick’s record of abuse against priests, seminarians, and lay people, as well as telling him of sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI. Despite this knowledge, Viganò alleged, Francis lifted the sanctions, involved McCarrick in diplomatic missions on behalf of the Holy See, and consulted him regarding the naming of new bishops for the United States.
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