Wednesday, June 20, 2018

With A Cardinal's Fall, The Crisis Returns Home

With the specter of sex-abuse returned to the fore with a vengeance across the Catholic world, the story's mounting American angle has suddenly yielded a historic, shocking development: early Wednesday, the archdiocese of New York announced that the Holy See had removed Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from all public ministry following a 47 year-old allegation of abusing a minor during his days as a priest in the city.

By far, the 87 year-old retired archbishop of Washington – who marked his 60th anniversary of ordination last month – becomes the highest-ranking US cleric to be suspended due to a report deemed credible and substantiated, and the third member of the global College of Cardinals to face a founded allegation of sexual misconduct. A fourth, Cardinal George Pell – the Australian tapped by Pope Francis as the founding head of the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy – will face a double trial in his home country over the coming weeks on two charges of historic sex crimes; since becoming the first cardinal to be criminally charged on abuse counts a year ago next week, Pell has been on a voluntary leave from public ministry and his Roman role pending the outcome of the court process in Melbourne, where the 77 year-old served as archbishop through the 1990s.

Having remained one of American Catholicism's most influential prelates despite being well over a decade into retirement, McCarrick – who recently moved to a Washington nursing home – said in a statement this morning that he was "shocked by the report" and was "maintaining my innocence."

"In obedience I accept the decision of The Holy See, that I no longer exercise any public ministry," he said.

"I realize this painful development will shock my many friends, family members, and people I have been honored to serve in my sixty-years as a priest.

"While I have absolutely no recollection of this reported abuse, and believe in my innocence, I am sorry for the pain the person who brought the charges has gone through, as well as for the scandal such charges cause our people."

The cardinal is reportedly planning to appeal the finding to Rome; while a canonical recourse of the kind would normally be judged by the Congregation for the Clergy in the case of a priest, here it would ostensibly fall under the purview of the Congregation for Bishops, whose membership includes his successor in the capital, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Together with the announcement of the abuse finding, the current holders of the cardinal's first two diocesan assignments – northern New Jersey's archdiocese of Newark and diocese of Metuchen – made the joint revelation that their Chanceries had "received three allegations of sexual misconduct [by McCarrick] with adults decades ago; two of these allegations resulted in settlements." The cardinal's response made no mention of this aspect of the announcement.

On the historical front, in the lone prior case of similarly established misconduct with adults by a cardinal, in 2015 Francis "accepted the resignation of the rights and privileges" of membership in the College – an exceedingly rare act – submitted by the Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who forfeited his participation in the 2013 Conclave as the allegations surfaced. Following his renunciation, O'Brien lived in exiled obscurity in England until his death at 80 in March.

According to the New York statement, the finding of the abuse report as credible came by means of the standard process to which all allegations against priests, deacons and lay employees are submitted in the wake of the US bishops' 2002 "Dallas Charter" and Norms, which are particular law for the national church. As bishops are exempt from the remit of the Charter, the archdiocese said that the Holy See – which enjoys exclusive competence in matters pertaining to prelates – directed that the protocols applying to any other case be maintained, a decision without precedent in the case of a high-ranking cleric.

In itself, that context is extraordinary given the process' central role of a diocesan review board comprised exclusively of independent lay experts, which deemed the allegation credible and provided the basis for McCarrick's removal from ministry, a judgment carried out by the Pope's top deputy, the Cardinal-Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, on Francis' behalf.

Given the allegation's cited timeframe of 47 years, in 1971 then-Msgr McCarrick would have been freshly named as priest-secretary to New York's Cardinal Terence Cooke after a stint as rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico.

By tradition the most powerful post in the Gotham Chancery after the archbishop himself, the future cardinal remained at the helm of Cooke's office even after his appointment as an auxiliary bishop in 1977 at the age of 46.

Notably, while a push for the beatification of Cooke has been a passionate cause among many since the cardinal's death from leukemia in 1983, the momentum for the project has stalled in recent years amid reports that Cardinal Timothy Dolan was concerned over his late predecessor's perceived mishandling of abuse cases during his 15-year tenure, fearing that the Roman investigation into Cooke's life would resurface the issue. At the time, a source close to McCarrick relayed to Whispers that the DC cardinal was irate over the blocking of his mentor's cause.

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All that said, while a development of this sort would be seismic regardless of which cardinal it involved, that sense is exponentially amplified given the outsize role McCarrick has held both on the national and global stage for more than three decades.

Even before he transformed the role of Washington's archbishop into a formidable pulpit far beyond its own turf, from his days in Newark, the slight figure in a threadbare jacket universally known as "Ted" has been and remained one of the Stateside leadership's principal forces of nature, carving out a massive profile that's extended from raising untold millions of dollars for church causes of every stripe to serving as the American church's de facto goodwill ambassador to the wider world and parachuting into more humanitarian emergencies than most folks knew existed, so much so that the long-standing quip among his priests was that "his official portrait should be taken through the window of an airplane."

Along the way, his fan-base transcended borders – when George W. Bush came to the White House in 2001, his first dinner party in Washington was at the cardinal's Chancery apartment; to the expletive-laden fury of his then-counterpart across the Hudson, McCarrick prodded John Paul II to land instead in New Jersey on the now-saint's last US tour in 1995 (with then-President Bill Clinton waiting on the tarmac); as the cardinal was being treated at a Roman hospital shortly after the 2013 Conclave, the newly-elected Francis rang his cellphone to check up on him, and last summer, before a crowd of 90,000 at the capital's FedEx Field, U2's Bono dedicated "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" to "our old friend."

At the church's topmost levels, meanwhile, the legacy is no less widespread: now the senior of McCarrick's "sons," his vicar-general in Washington has joined him in the Pope's "Senate" on becoming the cardinal-head of the Vatican's organ for the laity and family life, while in his beloved Newark, it was a "Ted talk" to Francis that saw New Jersey score a red hat of its own in the form of the Pope's closest Stateside friend...

...and for now, shattering and simply unreal as all this is, it's to that "adopted son," Cardinal Joe Tobin, that the last word belongs:
Cardinal McCarrick served this Archdiocese for almost fifteen years. No doubt many of you developed strong relationships with him and appreciate the impact of his service. Those feelings are likely hard to reconcile with the news of a credible and substantiated claim of abuse of a minor. While Cardinal McCarrick maintains his innocence and the canonical process continues, we must put first the serious nature of this matter with respect and support for the process aimed at hearing victims and finding truth.

The abuse crisis in our Church has been devastating. We cannot undo the actions of the past, but we must continue to act with vigilance today. I renew my commitment to seek forgiveness and healing, while ensuring a safe environment for children in this Archdiocese. I will continue to report immediately to civil authorities any accusation of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy and will cooperate fully in the investigation and adjudication. I continue to urge anyone who was abused by clergy to come forward, as brave survivors before you have done. To the priests, religious and all other members of this community, I join you in continued prayer that God carry us together in his love with commitment to our faith and each other.
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Even as today's news represents a watershed moment in the US church's three-decade journey through the scandals, McCarrick's removal nonetheless heightens the epochal nature of the days at hand.

Sometime next week, the Pennsylvania attorney general, Josh Shapiro, is expected to release the most extensive civil report to date on the US church's response to abuse, the result of a two-year grand jury that's probed six of the state's eight Latin-church dioceses (Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton).

As first reported by the British daily The Guardian, the findings – drawn from extensive testimony and subpoenaed personnel-files dating back to the late 1940s – are expected to fill nearly 900 pages.

Though the sprawling text is tipped to make for an explicit drubbing of the handling of cases by prelates long since retired or deceased, Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer reported that no criminal charges will be recommended by the panel, ostensibly against neither alleged abusers nor diocesan officials.

The nation's first civil investigation of abuse to stretch beyond a single diocese, the six local churches will respond individually to the report upon its release.

SVILUPPO (4.40pm): In an unexpected ruling late Wednesday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a stay preventing the publication of the grand jury report amid unspecified "legal challenges" to its release.

According to the two-paragraph ruling, the report's issuance has been halted "pending further order" of the seven-member court – all its members elected on party lines, currently a Democratic majority of 5-2.

No timeframe for a potential order to publish was given, and the breakdown of the justices' vote was not disclosed.

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Monday, June 11, 2018

With Prime Target's Ouster, Pope's Chilean Cleanout Begins

Three weeks since the bishops of Chile offered their joint resignation to the Pope in an unprecedented response to a deepening abuse crisis, Francis' concrete moves to right the ship have begun precisely as the victims would've hoped.

At Roman Noon this Monday – all of five months since the pontiff's last public defense of Bishop Juan Barros – Francis' stunning turnabout came full circle as he accepted the 61 year-old prelate's resignation from the helm of the diocese of Osorno, ending a three-year tenure marked on the ground by protests and resistance from its outset. (Above, Barros is seen caught in the midst of demonstrators at his 2015 installation.)

On his transfer to the remote, southern church from Chile's military ordinariate, Barros was implicated by the victims of the country's most notorious predator, Fr Fernando Karadima, of having witnessed their abuse as a young priest in Santiago in the 1980s. Over the last six weeks, the Pope has invited groups of Karadima survivors for two weekends' worth of talks at the Domus.

Having previously submitted his resignation twice only for it to be declined by Francis, while Barros had become the most prominent target of calls for his removal – all as the Osorno cathedral has been occupied by "sit-in" vigils since his arrival – today's departures did not extend to the handful of other Karadima proteges who've since become diocesan bishops. Then again, the trio of moves announced today are only expected to be the first strike of an ongoing clearout that, according to some projections, will eventually see roughly half of the nation's 33-man active bench leave office.

Alongside Barros, the two other prelates relieved of their posts – Archbishop Christián Caro Cordero of Puerto Montt and Bishop Gonzalo Duarte García de Cortazar of Valparaiso, the country's second-largest diocese – are both over the retirement age of 75, thus rendering their participation in the en bloc resignation a purely symbolic act.

While a Chilean priest recently said he had lodged an allegation of Duarte's complicity in "sexual abuse, abuse of conscience and power" with the country's Nuncio in 2008 and never received a response, the Pope's move to include Caro in the first wave of the ousters is especially notable on two fronts: first, as metropolitan of the province which includes Osorno, the archbishop has had a degree of supervisory authority over Barros and the suffragan diocese. In the face of the protests, Caro proved one of Barros' most resolute defenders in the hierarchy, openly attacking the Osorno demonstrators and maintaining as recently as last month that, although the scandals presented a serious issue for the Chilean church, the ongoing tide of revelations and outrage was not to be considered "a crisis."

On another significant front, today's announcements come as the Pope's special investigators for the Chilean church, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and the CDF staffer Msgr Jordi Bertomeu, are slated to return tomorrow for a week of further interviews with victims and other impacted parties, only now shifting their focus from Santiago to Osorno itself.

Given both the delicate situation and the separate need to reconstruct the country's apparatus for episcopal appointments in light of the implication of the current Nuncio, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, in the handling of events, alongside today's resignations Francis named apostolic administrators for the three vacant dioceses. As two of the temporary picks are auxiliaries of Santiago, the choices further indicate that not all of the bishops' resignations will be accepted, not to mention that it will almost certainly be a long wait until permanent successors are appointed. (Unlike elected diocesan administrators, as an apostolic administrator's mandate derives from papal appointment, the latter may exercise the full authority of a diocesan bishop for the duration of their mission.)

As previously noted, even with Barros' departure from center stage, the Chilean church's three most critical personnel decisions remain pending before Francis: a new archbishop of Santiago, the country's most senior post, where Cardinal Riccardo Ezzati is well over a year past 75; a new Nuncio to replace the tainted Scapolo and manage the bench's rebuilding, and perhaps most prominently, the fate of the retired Santiago Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz Ossa – long an outspoken opponent of Karadima's victims – who maintains his seat on the Pope's "C9" group of lead advisers.

On the latter piece, the 25th meeting of the "Gang of Nine" began today at the Domus. Whether Errazuriz was in attendance won't be disclosed by the Vatican until the gathering's close on Wednesday.

Among other recent developments, following the bishops' return from their three-day May summit with Francis, the local landscape was further roiled by the suspension of 15 priests amid fresh allegations in the diocese of Rancagua, whose ordinary, Bishop Alejandro Goic, happens to be the chairman of the Chilean church's commission on sexual abuse.

While Barros issued a statement seeking forgiveness for his "limitations" and "what I couldn't accomplish," the de facto face of Karadima's victims, Juan Carlos Cruz, issued the following response shortly after the resignations were announced:
Having been among the first group of survivors to meet with Francis in late April, in other statements Cruz has used the phrase "Que se vayan todos" in reference to the bishops – that is, "They all should go."

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Sunday, June 03, 2018

"In This Way, We Live 'Eucharistically'" – On Corpus Christi, Today's "Abandoned Tabernacles"

For the first time since John Paul II came to Peter's Chair, a Pope took the traditional Corpus Christi Mass and procession outside the majestic heart of Rome....

That Francis did it, however, should surprise no one – yet again, the inspiration came from Paul VI, who led the rite in the same ancient port of Ostia fifty years ago.

Whether this year's departure from the customary site at St John Lateran is a one-off remains to be seen. But in a reinforcement of Papa Bergoglio's intent in moving the event to the "peripheries" of Rome's eldest suffragan church, his homily tonight offered a potent reflection on what the reception and veneration of Christ's Body and Blood entails....
The Gospel we just heard speaks of the Last Supper, but surprisingly, pays more attention to the preparations than to the dinner itself. We keep hearing the word “prepare”. For example, the disciples ask: “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” (Mk 14:12). Jesus sends them off with clear instructions to make the necessary preparations and they find “a large room… furnished and ready” (v. 15). The disciples went off to prepare, but the Lord had already made his own preparations.

Something similar occurs after the resurrection when Jesus appears to the disciples for the third time. While they are fishing, he waits for them on the shore, where he has already prepared bread and fish for them. Even so, he tells the disciples to bring some of the fish that they have just caught, which he himself had shown them how to catch (cf. Jn 21:6.9-10). Jesus has already made preparations and he asks his disciples to cooperate. Once again, just before the Passover meal, Jesus tells the disciples: “I go to prepare a place for you… so that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn 14:2.3). Jesus is the one who prepares, yet before his own Passover, he also asks us urgently, with exhortations and parables, to be prepared, to remain ever ready (cf. Mt 24:44; Lk 12:40).

Jesus, then, prepares for us and asks us to be prepared. What does he prepare for us? A place and a meal. A place much more worthy than the “large furnished room” of the Gospel. It is our spacious and vast home here below, the Church, where there is, and must be, room for everyone. But he has also reserved a place for us on high, in heaven, so that we can be with him and with one another forever. In addition to a place, he prepares a meal, the Bread in which he gives himself: “Take; this is my body” (Mk 14:22). These two gifts, a place, and a meal are what we need to live. They are our ultimate “room and board”. Both are bestowed upon us in the Eucharist.

Jesus prepares a place for us here below because the Eucharist is the beating heart of the Church. It gives her birth and rebirth; it gathers her together and gives her strength. But the Eucharist also prepares for us a place on high, in eternity, for it is the Bread of heaven. It comes down from heaven – it is the only matter on earth that savors of eternity. It is the bread of things to come; even now, it grants us a foretaste of a future infinitely greater than all we can hope for or imagine. It is the bread that sates our greatest expectations and feeds our finest dreams. It is, in a word, the pledge of eternal life – not simply a promise but a pledge, a concrete anticipation of what awaits us there. The Eucharist is our “reservation” for the heavenly banquet; it is Jesus himself, as food for our journey towards eternal life and happiness.

In the consecrated host, together with a place, Jesus prepares for us a meal, food for our nourishment. In life, we constantly need to be fed: nourished not only with food but also with plans and affection, hopes and desires. We hunger to be loved. But the most pleasing compliments, the finest gifts, and the most advanced technologies are not enough; they never completely satisfy us. The Eucharist is simple food, like bread, yet it is the only food that satisfies, for there is no greater love. There we encounter Jesus really; we share his life and we feel his love. There you can realize that his death and resurrection are for you. And when you worship Jesus in the Eucharist, you receive from him the Holy Spirit and you find peace and joy. Dear brothers and sisters, let us choose this food of life! Let us make Mass our priority! Let us rediscover Eucharistic adoration in our communities! Let us implore the grace to hunger for God, with an insatiable desire to receive what he has prepared for us.

As he did with his disciples, so too today Jesus asks us, today, to prepare. Like the disciples, let us ask him: “Lord, where do you want us to go to prepare?” Where: Jesus does not prefer exclusive, selective places. He looks for places untouched by love, untouched by hope. Those uncomfortable places are where he wants to go and he asks us to prepare his way. How many persons lack dignified housing or food to eat! All of us know people who are lonely, troubled and in need: they are abandoned tabernacles. We, who receive from Jesus our own room and board, are here to prepare a place and a meal for these, our brothers and sisters in need. Jesus became bread broken for our sake; in turn, he asks us to give ourselves to others, to live no longer for ourselves but for one another. In this way, we live “eucharistically”, pouring out upon the world the love we draw from the Lord’s flesh. The Eucharist is translated into life when we pass beyond ourselves to those all around us.

The Gospel tells us that the disciples made their preparations once they “set out and went to the city” (v. 16). The Lord calls us also today to prepare for his coming not by keeping our distance but by entering our cities. That includes this city, whose very name – Ostia – means entrance, doorway. Lord, how many doors do you want us to open for you here? How many gates do you call us to unbar, how many walls must we tear down? Jesus wants the walls of indifference and silent collusion to be breached, iron bars of oppression and arrogance torn asunder, and paths cleared for justice, civility and legality. The vast beachfront of this city speaks to us of how beautiful it is to open our hearts and to set out in new directions in life. But this requires loosening the knots that keep us bound to the moorings of fear and depression. The Eucharist invites to let ourselves be carried along by the wave of Jesus, to not remain grounded on the beach in the hope that something may come along, but to cast into the deep, free, courageous and united.

The Gospel ends by telling us that the disciples, “after singing a hymn, went out” (v. 26). At the end of Mass, we too will go out; we will go forth with Jesus, who will pass through the streets of this city. Jesus wants to dwell among you. He wants to be part of your lives, to enter your houses and to offer his liberating mercy, his blessing and his consolation. You have experienced painful situations; the Lord wants to be close to you. Let us open our doors to him and say:

Come, Lord, and visit us.
We welcome you into our hearts,
our families and our city.
We thank you because you have prepared for us
the food of life and a place in your Kingdom.
Make us active in preparing your way,
joyous in bringing you, who are the Way, to others,
and thus to bring fraternity, justice, and peace
to our streets. Amen.
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