Before Summit, Cardinal Cupich Discusses Abuse, Homosexuality, Priestly Formation

Cardinal Cupich took questions from the media along with other members of the organizing committee.

Cardinal Blase Cupich at a Feb. 18 Vatican news conference ahead of the meeting of the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences.
Cardinal Blase Cupich at a Feb. 18 Vatican news conference ahead of the meeting of the heads of the world’s bishops’ conferences. (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Blase Cupich said Monday that this week’s Vatican sex-abuse summit needs to be focused on the protection of minors, underscoring that homosexuality is not a cause of sexual abuse.

While it is important to recognize the fact that a high percentage of sex abuse involves “male-on-male sex abuse,” Cardinal Cupich said, “homosexuality itself is not a cause.” It is a matter of “opportunity and also a matter of poor training on the part of people.”

“The Pope is asking us to make sure that we focus on the task at hand; if in fact we begin to inflate expectations by including other topics, then we are not going to achieve the goals,” Cardinal Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, said at a Vatican news conference Feb. 18.

The Vatican’s sex-abuse summit, to be held Feb. 21-24, will focus on the themes of responsibility, accountability and transparency. Cardinal Cupich was appointed by Pope Francis as a member of the organizing committee for the conference on the worldwide protection of minors in the Church.

Speaking at a news conference Feb. 18, Cardinal Cupich took questions from the media along with other members of the organizing committee, including Jesuit Father Hans Zollner and Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta.

Archbishop Scicluna, who oversaw the investigation into the sexual-abuse crisis in Chile last year, also serves as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The global meeting of 190 global Catholic leaders on sex-abuse measures highlights the “synodality” and “collegiality” in the Church in tackling these issues, Cardinal Cupich explained.

“The Holy Father does want episcopal conferences to take responsibility — that was never a question; but we have to do it in such a way that we work together with each other. That is part of synodality; that is part of collegiality that this conference wanted to highlight,” he said.

In November, the Vatican intervened in the meeting of U.S. bishops to vote on a plan to address instances of episcopal sexual misconduct, which included the creation of a “Code of Conduct” for bishops, a whistleblower hotline and the establishment of an independent lay-led team of experts charged with investigating allegations made against bishops.

“With regard to the November meeting in Baltimore among the bishops, it was clear that — talking with the bishops beforehand, even before we knew about this — the proposal submitted by the bishops was problematic for many. I believe that it would not have received the 2/3rds vote anyway,” Cardinal Cupich said.

“I think that, in many ways, the Holy See did us a great favor in pointing out some areas that already were problematic for a number of bishops,” he continued.

“Now this meeting with allow a pathway forward, so that what we do in the United States will be in line with the expectations with the rest of the world; so I think it was an important moment to step in,” he added.

The American cardinal emphasized the success of screening efforts in U.S. seminaries in preventing sexual abuse of minors.

“When you put in proper screening processes for seminaries, as we have in the United States, you see that the instances of abuse drop dramatically. And so it is incumbent on our part to be responsible and accountable at that level of admitting candidates into the seminaries,” Cardinal Cupich said.

“The screening is important, not in terms of homosexuality, but in terms of … if someone has an attitude regarding sexuality that is not in keeping with the Church or that the protection of children is important or that there are other factors as well that made them high risk because of their own psyche,” he continued.

Father Hans Zollner, president of the Center for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University as well as a member of the summit organizing committee, clarified that “a psychological test or interview can never determine whether someone is homosexual or a higher risk” to commit sexual abuse with 100% certainty.

Father Zollner emphasized that this week’s meeting for the protection of minors will focus on the responsibility of the Church to address this issue at a global level, but in a way which can be applicable in a diversity of cultural contexts.

He explained that the Vatican had administered a survey seeking to identify how Church leaders perceive the topic of abuse very differently in their countries and would use the results to “help achieve a synodal Church.”

The survey results will be released at a later date, Father Zollner said.

On Day Two of the summit, Cardinal Cupich will give a presentation on accountability titled, “Synodality: Jointly Responsible.”

Transparency will be one of the most important topics in the upcoming abuse conference, said Archbishop Scicluna.

“Denial … is a primitive mechanism that we need to move away from, and so whether it is criminal or malicious complicity in a code of silence or whether it is denial, which is trauma in its very primitive state, we need to go away from that; and that’s why the third day of this important meeting is going to be on transparency.”

He added: “We have to face the facts, because only the truth of the matter ... and confronting the facts will make us free.”