Day 2 Abuse Summit Discussions Focus on Accountability

Cardinals Cupich and Gracias were among those who spoke Feb. 22.

Cardinals Seán O’Malley and Blase Cupich attend Feb. 22 news conference in Rome.
Cardinals Seán O’Malley and Blase Cupich attend Feb. 22 news conference in Rome. (photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — Collegiality, synodality, greater lay involvement and a 12-step program for holding bishops accountable for mishandling of clerical sex-abuse cases or sexual misconduct were among the subjects discussed on the second day of the Vatican summit on protection of minors in the Church.

Opening the day, which was dedicated to the issue of accountability, Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, India, noted that “the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults” revealed a “complex web of interconnected factors” in the Church.

Causes of abuse, he said, include “psychopathology, sinful moral decisions, social environments that enable abuse to happen, and often inadequate or plainly harmful institutional and pastoral responses, or a lack of response.”

To tackle these, he said he believes “collegiality and synodality” are vital, both in healing wounds of abuse and in applying measures suitable for different countries and cultures.

In view of today’s international communications, the Indian cardinal said the need for collegiality — papal governance in collaboration with the bishops of the local Churches — was “even more decisive.”

“If we use the elements of collegiality as a lens for viewing and addressing the crisis, we can perhaps begin to make some progress; we can see the way forward,” he said.

The cardinal, a member of the summit’s preparatory committee, also spoke of the need for restorative justice and healing that could be achieved through “clear, transparent and consistent communication” from a “collegial Church” to victims and others.

He also highlighted the need for courage and fortitude in confronting this scourge and to be “united with Peter’s successor” in “humility and openness.” We must “be willing to pay the price of following God’s will in uncertain and painful circumstances,” he said.

Also important, added the cardinal, who is also one of the Pope’s close advisers on Church reform, is to be a pilgrim, called “to continuous repentance and continuous discernment. We must repent — and do so together, collegially — because along the way, we have failed. We need to seek pardon,” he said.


Cardinal Cupich

In his speech that followed, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago likewise underlined the “synodal” aspect to dealing with abuse, further indicating a push toward decentralization in dealing with this issue.

Synodality, explained the cardinal, who is also a member of the summit’s preparatory committee, “represents the participation of all the baptized at every level — in parishes, dioceses, national and regional ecclesial bodies — in a discernment and reform that penetrates throughout the Church.”

He stressed the importance of this model, echoing Cardinal Gracias’ reasons, and saying it would “give rise to elements of truth, penitence and renewal of cultures” that are “essential” to protecting the “young within the Church.”

But he also said new legal procedures were needed to report and investigate Church leaders when they are accused of mishandling abuse cases, or even misconduct themselves, and he advocated the contribution of lay specialists in that process.

Although the Church in the United States and many other countries have generally made significant steps in safeguarding minors and bringing predator clergy to justice, bishops have often failed to hold fellow bishops accountable for grave mistreatment of abuse cases, cover-up and abuse.

Cardinal Gracias himself has been accused of failing abuse victims, admitting that he could have acted better. Pope Francis has also attracted criticism for his handling of abuse cases, notably in Chile, as well as for rehabilitating former cardinal Theodore McCarrick despite allegedly knowing of his abuse and, more recently, appointing an Argentinian bishop accused of abuse to a position in the Vatican.

As a possible solution for bishops, Cardinal Cupich proposed a 12-point “metropolitan model” whereby archbishops of large archdioceses and responsible for other ordinaries in their region should carry out investigations, with the help of lay specialists. Those metropolitans would then forward the results to the Vatican.

At a news conference this afternoon, a reporter wondered who would hold metropolitan bishops responsible, especially in light of the fact that both disgraced Theodore McCarrick and the late Cardinal Bernard Law, who covered up abuse cases in Boston, were metropolitans.

In response, Cardinal Cupich said it was important to read the footnotes to his presentation, which contained suggestions on what action to take if a metropolitan is accused, one of which would be to have a senior bishop in the province provide the necessary accountability. He also underlined the importance of lay involvement at every step of the process.

Cardinal Cupich said his proposal differed in two ways from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop’s “Code of Conduct,” which bishops were advised not to vote on by the Vatican last November. Firstly, he said it is a “more regional approach” and not just about “trying a case,” but “offering pastoral care” to the victim, and, secondly, participation would be “obligatory,” differing from the USCCB proposal, which was voluntary.


Laywoman’s Perspective

A third presentation took place Friday: Linda Ghisoni, the undersecretary for the laity at the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, was the first layperson to address the summit.

Ghisoni urged the involvement of all the People of God in confronting the crisis and stressed the theological concept of communio (communion) that emerged from the Second Vatican Council. Ghisoni also underlined the importance of a correct understanding of the ordained ministry, especially the relationship between bishops and priests.

In practical terms, she proposed accountability could be improved through national guidelines and independent councils and a revision of laws on maintaining secrecy in ecclesial affairs with the goal of increasing transparency.

Pope Francis welcomed having a woman address the summit, saying: “To invite a woman to speak about the wounds of the Church is to invite the Church to speak about herself, about the wounds she has.” He also added that the “feminine mystery” of the Church is not about giving women more positions in the Church.

“Yes, this is good,” he said, “but that’s not how the problem is solved. It’s a question of integrating women as figures of the Church into our thinking and also for the Church to think with the categories of a woman.”

Despite the primary focus of this summit being on minors, the category of “vulnerable adults,” or “vulnerable people,” was included in the cardinals’ presentations today. The issue is considered important, given reports of homosexual networks and cultures in seminaries and the allegations against McCarrick, which involved sexual abuse of priests and seminarians as well as minors.

Cardinal Cupich called for a “stance of listening” to help confront the “raw destruction of the lives of children and vulnerable people that clergy sexual abuse brings.” He also advocated structures and legal provisions whose “overarching principles” are to “protect the young and the vulnerable.”


Reporters’ Questions

But for the second day of the Vatican summit, the issue of homosexuality was left out of the presentations and press conferences, despite many seeing the orientation being a significant factor — among others — in abuse cases. It is not believed, however, that all homosexuals are pedophiles, but, rather, that, statistically, the majority of clerical sex abuse cases in Western countries are male-on-male instances.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, a member of the summit’s preparatory committee, told reporters on the first day of the summit that “generalizing on a category of persons is never legitimate” and that his instinct was to “look at individual cases.” He added that homosexuality and heterosexuality are “human conditions that we recognize, and that exist, but they aren’t something that really predisposes to sin.” Rather, he said “concupiscence” is what takes on the “personal inclination of the criminal or the one accused.” 

Asked Friday if he and other cardinals present thought it important to nevertheless address this subculture of homosexuality, especially within seminaries, where abuse has taken place (in addition to the McCarrick case, the Register documented such a case in Honduras last year), he said that “you cannot not address misconduct of that nature, which is sinful,” but added that “this has nothing to do with sexual abuse of minors.” The others on the panel did not answer.

Earlier this week, Archbishop Scicluna and Cardinal Cupich expressed a hope that, although the focus of the summit is on minors, what is learned at the summit could be “applied across the board,” such as regarding “vulnerable adults.”

In answer to another question, on whether Americans should trust those leading this meeting when the “reassuring face” of the crisis in 2002 was then-Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal Cupich said he himself “had to be held accountable,” “takes seriously” his call to discipleship, and was making sure “we are supportive of each other to live the Gospel.”

When asked about the investigations into McCarrick and who knew about the abuse allegations and when, Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston told reporters he wasn’t certain that no bishops had ever spoken to McCarrick about his “proclivities or activities,” but that he “kind of hopes that they did, particularly people who may have been aware of this or heard it.”

He added that the investigations into McCarrick were “going forward” and that “hopefully we will get a report soon,” both from the Holy See’s investigations and those within individual dioceses in the United States.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.